So many people in this world run without ever knowing why. For some it just feels like fun, searching for that next ounce of excitement, but for many others it's a sense of escape, an attempt to outrun a feeling that's been dogging them forever. That latter feeling has driven many musicians, with almost all singing tales of woe to hopefully share with other downtrodden souls. But on The Boy From The Bay, Billy Woodward does more than share: he attempts to understand what weighs on his soul, examining every moment of melancholy with the focus of a true poet. Set against finely crafted instrumentation, his lyrics ring like a cracked bell and shine like the brightest searchlight, offering both despair and hope hand-in-hand to those who may be searching like him. The result is an album that’s deep, unpredictable, innovative and staggeringly beautiful, one that establishes Woodward as a phenomenal new face in the landscape of modern music.
Frankly speaking, it’s very hard to pin Woodward down to one genre of music. Though Roots and Blues seem to be major influences, there’s also incredible shades of Gospel, Country and Folk presented on The Boy From The Bay. Even the catch-all Americana label doesn’t seem to fit here; the music just feels new, like a grand exploration of the avenues these genres rarely go down. This may be due in part to Woodward’s keen ear for backing instrumentation, with no detail being overdone or wasted in any way. The incredibly varied instrumentation on these tracks is always utilized to its full ability, with the clear production allowing Woodward’s melodies to shimmer as magically as they should. It honestly doesn’t sound like a debut album; it's so solid and assured that it feels like this could be his fourth or fifth outing. This feeling speaks volumes to Woodward’s hard work in assembling his music, and his efforts have resulted in songs that are consistently rewarding and a genuine joy to return to time and time again.
After all that praise directed at instrumentation it would be a crime to ignore another of Woodward’s immense strengths: his voice. Its thin and wiry aspect is constantly punctuated by a calculated vibrato with Woodward knowing exactly how to utilize its power to the best of his ability. It’s a unique voice that’s very hard to forget, and his expressive range allows for any kind of emotion to be delivered with great effect too. Take the track ‘Watch It All Fall Down,’ where the sweeping peaks and valleys of his delivery fit perfectly with the desperation and musings of the lyrics. Or take the track ‘Honesty Blues,’ where the hushed and restrained vocals match the vulnerability of someone trying to explain themselves to another. Again, this incredible flexibility applies to every single song on this album, with no duds or mismatched tones anywhere to be found.
To be honest, this is one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever had to write. A friend once asked me why I listen to so much music, with my response being along the lines of ‘because I’m trying to find stuff that surprises me.’ All in all Billy Woodward has done more than surprise me: he has provided a near-perfect display of musical talent and a stark reminder that modern music can be as exciting and fruitful as listening to the greats. It’s been incredibly hard to put how much I enjoyed this album into words, but I very much hope that what I’ve tried to write has done it some sort of justice. At the very least I hope the world keeps a keen eye on Billy Woodward, since there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll continue making such high quality music. There’s an aspect of searching about him that’s so rare nowadays, wherein it feels like he creates music not to follow trends but to plumb the depths of who we are and, especially, what exactly it is that keeps us going. I’ll certainly be there to hear what he has to say on his next album, but for now I think I’ll listen to The Boy From The Bay just a few more times.
Written by Nick Snow