"Another Sailor's Dream"
When my fellow critics start rolling over each other, all claiming they've found some new Ryan Adams, I always get slightly suspicious and -too bad for the artist- also extra critical... But I have to admit, that I don't really find anything to gripe about here! A secret son of Springsteen going to Nebraska again in 2007, maybe?
John Hayward Williams was the lonely college kid making dinner dates with his guitar, a '64 Gibson that his mother bought him at a garage sale. Every teenager should have a cool Mom like that! In 2001 Hayward quit school to join Exit, a Milwaukee based popband, on bass guitar and vocals. They toured the MidWest and eventually ended up at CBGB's in New York City. The following year a solo-project saw the light under the pseudonym "Manoverboard". That turned out to be the foundation for "Uphill / Downhill", his 2005 debut as Hayward Williams, with Wilco-esque music.
And now "Another Sailor's Dream" (with the octopus featured in the nice lay-out) managed to attract the attention of the rootsmusic world! Singer-songwriter stuff indeed: semi-acoustic, often spare alt.country with touches of folk, blues and even jazz. Hayward has a good, interesting voice: the vocal range of a tenor with the gruff edges of a rocker. He plays a variety of instruments: acoustic guitar, bassguitar, harmonica, piano, glockenspiel and percussion. The excellent Peter Mulvey (also co-producer) takes care of various guitars, including the dobro, while Dan McMahon can be heard on electric guitar, piano, accordion, banjo, lapsteel and drums. Enough to make a lot of noise, but the arrangements are rather sparse than heavy and every sound is well-placed in the smart mix. Hayward writes very good lyrics for somebody his age, intelligent but not too pretentious poetry and wry but not too dark lovesongs.
First track on the CD is "Ballad Of Benson Creek", a slow acoustic guitar-based ballad indeed with lapsteel, reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen, circa "Nebraska". "You stood right in between two steamtrains on a track / doing nothing to hold either one of them back", ending like this: "And now the river is burning / but you don't recall bringing any gasoline". "Redwoods" gets more uptempo with harmonica, bassguitar and drums: "If you're looking for a redwood forest / you can find her on the Upper West side / but don't be surprised if the trees are tallest / somewhere in the back of my mind". Sweet sounds and Peter Mulvey on harmonyvocals in "You Were Right", witty twist of words: "I wasn't wrong, but you were right / safe in a song but still out of sight", conclusion: "I could be stronger without you / I could live longer without you". After the jazzy folk of pianoballad "Doctors", the raggedy country of "Careful, Please" follows. Soundtrack to a remake of great movies like "Bonnie & Clyde" or "Badlands"? "Please, I'm begging you come on out with me / cuz I got your mama's pills and you've got the keys". Nobody
cares anyway, "Cuz the D.A. don't give a damn if we don't leave the state". Luv the banjo accentuations and the drums with just enough garbage can sound! Uhm, "Problems With Hemingway"? "I disagreed, I felt he had some good things to say / but she always had a problem with Hemingway", all of that on a pretty melody. Little scenario for a rock videoclip in "A Glance Back": "One more show to go, and everybody's had enough / yet all the kids keep showing up in all their undertaker make-up / so watcha' gonna do to crucify your shooting star? / while a triumphant Judas sits safely in his taxi cab car". The album title can be found in "Who's It Gonna Be Today?", an introspective slow song that progresses nicely and shows off the highest registers in Hayward's voice: "It's too early to begin / another stupid sailor's dream / to walk the mast of a ceiling beam". Cool garbage can drums are back on "Devil's Lament", plus an accordion: "All my advances they'll just dance right out of the window", intriguing approach: "And the saints will all come through to cast their decision / yes and how could this love even replace your religion". This is certainly the highlight of the album! Which ends, after "A Song For Lou" ("Lou, you've been on my mind / you couldn't kill the lightning so you just lied.") on a stripped down version of "Thunder Road". And so we're back with Springsteen in Nebraska... It's one of my all-time favorite albums, so the last thing I would do is blaming a musician for getting his inspriration there, hell, my late partner and I did the same! At some point even we outgrew that, Hayward is still young and talented, so he will too...
Written by Johanna J. Bodde, March 2007.