For whatever reasons, there seems to be a number of young desi, both here and in the US, who have turned to Western folk music as their genre of choice. In the UK, Luke Sital-Singh has been making waves while Handsworth-born Vijay Kishore has earned a devoted loyal following and been described as a Brummie Jeff Buckley.
Raised in Pennsylvannia and now based in Oregon, Vikesh Kapoor was turned on to folk when he discovered Johnny Cash while still in high school, though listening to his debut album ‘The Ballad of Willy Robbins‘ it’s clear that (though you may here Cohen hints too) it’s Dylan rather than the Man In Black who exerts the biggest influence, even if opening track, Bottom Of The Ladder, starts as if he’s about to launch into Fairy Tale of New York.
Relying mostly on Kapoor’s acoustic guitar, it’s a concept album which, inspired by a newspaper article, tells the life of the titular Willy, a middle-aged construction worker beset by many of the problems familiar to both today’s average blue collar and middle-class American.
As the title suggests, the opening track finds our protagonist with nowhere to go but up and what follows charts his slow downward spiral as he gradually loses everything on which he’s held.
Introduced with sparse piano notes, the scenario-sketching title cut offers up the picture of man trying to his best, faced with empty promises and work projects that never materialise, his wife, Margaret, grown tired of the life and bailing out. Echoing Seeger, Guthrie, Ochs and Dylan, it’s a downcast vision and probably one of the few songs to mention the Greek myth of Sisyphus in its reference to the daily grind.
Touching bluesier notes, as per its title, I Dreamt Blues (which conjures a mood akin to Seeger’s I Come And Stand At Every Door) reinforces the endless nature of a 9-5 existence and its accompanying sense of insignificance and meaningless as he sings “after work what do I got left to believe? My soul’s replaced by machines, I am static in the evening and back at it by morning.”
He expands his musical palette on Carry Me, Home which, with its banjo sounds as though it was hewn from the Kentucky coalfields and works to provide a welcome contrast to the somewhat one-paced nature elsewhere, though having said that the closing numbers, Ode To My Hometown and Forever Gone, also offer a deeper richness of sound, the former weaving in violin while woodwind enhances the haunting, ethereal trad folk blues air of the latter.
Although the songs focus on Willy and she’s only mentioned by name twice, the album does offer a song from Margaret’s perspective, the slow sad waltzing I Never Knew What I Saw In You prompting a scratchy falsetto which, while not his strongest sui, does, as he says, underline the broken nature of a love that’s fallen through the cracks.
It’s an ambitious and impressive debut that should do much to spread Kapoor’s name and widen his audience, especially among those for whom Springsteen’s thematically Nebraska (to which the pedal steel streaked optimism of Searching For The Sun holds affinity) has a special place in their heart.
Review by: Mike Davies
UK Tour with The Handsome Family
Vikesh Kapoor’s first tour abroad with The Handsome Family will take place in May in the UK:
05 May – BELFAST, Black Box
06 May – LIMERICK, Dolans
07 May – CORK, Crane Lane Theatre
09 May – MANCHESTER, Deaf Institute
10 May – HEBDEN BRIDGE, Trades Club
11 May – SWANSEA, The Garage
12 May – BRIGHTON, Komedia
13 May – LONDON, 100 Club
14 May – LONDON, 100 Club
16 May – NEWBURY, Arlington Arts Centre
Released by Loose, April 14
Order Via: Amazon