Will King
"Come On In From The Cold"
by Johanna J. Bodde

"Come On In From The Cold"
It's kinda strange, reviewing an album with this grrreat title "Come On In From The Cold" right at the moment when Summer has officially started! Well, I'm a Fall & Winter person anyway... Singer-songwriter Will King lives in the New York area, he's in his mid-thirties and we always want to know that little bit more here! So I dug into info sheets and other press materials, including a fine piece by Chuck Waters. Here's what I compiled...
After touring and recording throughout the mid-to-late 1990s with Melange (a band he co-founded, which mixed jazz and blues with psychedelic rock) and other acts, Will King began writing and performing as a solo artist. Something of a late bloomer, he says he didn't learn how to play guitar until he was nineteen, Will has an appreciation of eastern music and favors a six string T. Haruo acoustic guitar. The tone and fullness of sound is extraordinary. You'd think he was double tracking and overdubbing all over the place. He isn't... Throughout his career, he has played in clubs and theatres from coast to coast. His new album "Come On In From The Cold" underscores King's appreciation for various forms of music that funnel into a genre best described as Americana. If you took Cat Stevens, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Michael Hedges, Leo Kottke and John Fahey, and crafted a jigsaw, you'd be close. Will King's music is moody, thought provoking and rife with hooks and melodies. His lyrics are poignant and far-reaching.

"Come On In From The Cold" is in many respects a concept album that takes the listener from death's door step ("Come On In From The Cold") to a sense of sustained celebration ("Polka Dot Dresses, Red Lipstick And White Wine"). The tracks in-between find characters dealing with abuse, discovery, death, defiance and enlightenment. And while certain characters fare better than others; King has created dimensions for the listener to visit ("The Legend Of Johnny McPhee", "Venetian Blind", and "Lenny"). A triumphant spirit emerges ("Seeing Just Fine", "Flow", "28 Days") that is watered down by habit and circumstance ("I Won't Give Up"). True liberation is realized ("One Thousand Birds") and environmental woes are pondered ("Kyoto") while those abusing authority are condemned ("I.O.U."). King paints interesting scenarios with this collection of music but encourages the listener to employ their respective color palette which ultimately makes "Come On In From The Cold" a collective experience.
While the press kit describes "Come On In From The Cold" as something of a concept album, Will King says it deals more with the cycles of life. "There are many different characters on this album and they all seem to be searching for something or somebody. I see songs like short stories. Often, I simply act as a conduit. If there is a message, it is to be true to yourself regardless of the consequences. And as we all know, there are consequences in this life." Will doesn’t preach, but he does encourage one to think. He is quite specific when it comes to what he wants to convey on his album. ""Kyoto" is taking a hard line against horrible environmental practices, and "Venetian Blind" tells the story of an old man who can’t let go, while "I.O.U." condemns those who abuse power for personal gain," he says. Will views life as a continuum and approaches his music that way. "Birth and death are bookends. We all unfold in different ways and at different times. If one of these songs resonates with a listener and allows him or her to look a bit differently at life then I’m grateful."
There’s a lot to kick around here. Will King sees himself as just starting to come into his own. When asked whether he considers himself more a singer/songwriter or a guitarist, he had to smile. "I began playing guitar late, at the age of 19 while attending college. At the time, most of my friends played guitar and I quickly realized that if I wanted to be active, I needed to learn. With the help of a few friends, I learned some chords and practiced like crazy, sometimes five or six hours a day. By 21 I was writing my own music. As I’ve gotten older, I do feel more like a singer-songwriter because I really enjoy encapsulating a story within music. But I also like to leave words behind and go deep musically; so my recordings and gigs, I think, show my varied approaches and interests." Will likes the richness of the open tunings his T. Haruo guitar allows. "I simply love the fullness and also, I often feel in uncharted territory which is refreshing. I find my songwriting is at times more liberated in this format. It allows me to connect with a middle-eastern vibe which I really enjoy pursuing."

Will also knows his classics. "I grew up listening to classic rock preferring San Francisco Bay Area and British rock. For awhile it was heavy doses of the Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin. Then, of course, you need more. I began listening to more acoustic singer songwriters like Cat Stevens, George Harrison, Tom Waits, Bob Marley, Leonard Cohen and just so many others. Miles Davis had a big impact on me as well." But he wasn’t listening just for fun. "From some artists you learn about chord progression and melody while others teach you about lyrics and phrasings, some do both with ease. The Beatles are a standard from which most, if not all, contemporary American music is based. They were influenced by Dylan; Dylan was influenced by them and I along with scores of others have been influenced by their collective legacy. However, since everything builds upon itself, we are all feeding off guys like blues legend Robert Johnson and Mozart." His CD player will find everything from rock to glam to funk. "I find myself gravitating to bands and songwriters somewhat off the beaten path and it changes all the time. M. Ward I like; Ryan Adams and his incarnations are intriguing; anything with Lucinda Williams is always a bonus. If it has depth and soul, I generally like it. In our house, it can go from Nine Inch Nails to Polyphonic Spree to Ravi Shankar or War."
The CD "Come On In From The Cold" features the following guests: Grammy nominated John Cohen (The New Lost City Ramblers, and recently featured in Martin Scorsese's documentary on Bob Dylan, 'No Direction Home'). Cohen also served as inspiration for the Grateful Dead song "Uncle John's Band". He plays mandolin and sings on the title track along with John Ventimiglia (Artie Bucco on TV-series The Sopranos) who also co-wrote and has a spoken narrative on "28 Days". Supporting musicians include drummer Doug Yowell (Suzanne Vega, Duncan Sheik) and bassist Saul Zonana (Crash Test Dummies, Ace Frehley of Kiss) and vocalist RJ King, Will's wife, who grew up playing the saxophone.
The picture of the meeting on Will's website shows how important it was for him: opening for folk legend Richie Havens. Anyone who has seem the film "Woodstock" can immediately recall Havens’ sweat-soaked rendition of "Freedom," bringing the arriving audience to a frenzy as the stage was literally being built around him. "He continues to inspire me. His voice is something else, getting better with age. I’ve learned a few things from his approach."
After the release of his album, Will wrote a song called "Edmund Pettus Bridge [How Long, Not Long]". It tells the story of ‘Bloody Sunday’ and the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And there is more to the story. "I accompanied my wife, who is in the process of finishing a manuscript on a related subject, on a trip (in April 2007) which was basically a Civil Rights quest. We, along with a representative from the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, visited historic sites throughout the region of Georgia, Alabama, etc. When we arrived in Selma, AL, I was struck by what I learned and experienced. A song began percolating. In May, I went into the studio with drummer Aaron Comess (Spin Doctors) to record the tune, which has taken on a life of its own. In October (2007), I will perform the song at the United Nations in conjunction with a Rosa Parks event." That’s music with a message indeed.

And, having devoured all this interesting information, I bet we're ready to listen to the CD "Come On In From The Cold"! Actually, according to Will King, a New Year's resolution catalyzed this album. The title-track opens, starting on the vocal and this is intriguing and fascinating right away! AltCountry with gospel and bluegrass touches, the mandolin gets the well-deserved attention... "Sickle shining bright / On this starless night / Won't you give me one more day / I know the Piper I must pay". It's definitely brave, to begin with a song that handles the subject most people just refuse to think about, death. Will's soulful, remarkable voice gets the chance to shine again in "I Won't Give Up", I can't say it enough: the timbre really 'makes' a great voice. I luv Will's phrasing & timing too. Very good (acoustic) guitar and very good drumming and percussion, that's not just keeping a rhythm! "You know time it just flies / When you're getting good and high / But I won't give up / No, I won't give up / As the barroom spins round and round / I see the face of a sad, sad clown / I know that I'm feeling down / But I'm going to pick myself off this ground." Somehow, I think it will take a while, before this main character in the song kicks the habit! "The Legend Of Johnny McPhee", just Will and his guitars in a spooky style. His voice sounds more throaty here, this is a whole new approach of the mountain music murder ballad... "Legend has it he killed a caravan of Quaker nuns / Some say you can hear their cries in the Tennessee dawn / That's when the legend of Johnny McPhee was born" and even the warning is there: "Watch out a dark cloud is rolling your way / It's getting closer with each tick-tock of the day". Whistling starts off "Venetian Blind", it's a somewhat simular song, also performed by Will and his guitar, but the melody and the arrangement are far more complicated, with jazz and avant garde influences. "Through the venetian blind an owl sits on the pine / The old man, he don't look away / The owl screams through her placid eyes / She's yelling at the old man 'Hurry my dear and die' / Through the venetian blind she sees her old man keeping time / She flies away". Was that really an owl or ...? "Lenny" is the last song of this 'trilogy', the pretty sound of the instrumentation and the beautiful guitars form a sharp contrast with the poignant lyrics. There's also bass and percussion here and Will's wife Rita (RJ King) sings harmony and backing vocals. "Another crash, boom bang and tears are falling hard / Now you gone and done it, you smashed his best guitar / The phone is swinging, swinging, swinging through the air / And I'm just sitting here wondering: Is anybody there? / He keeps on with his yelling / You're packing crying kids into the car / You always said you'd leave that two-time bastard and his whiskey jar / I tried to be the best friend a friend could be / Maybe my best is not the best that best can be / It's time to spread those wings and fly / Make your mark and wave goodbye." This track definitely sounds a lot like my favorite husband & wife team The Handsome Family! Lovely Rita also joins in on "I.O.U.", this is a real duet, their voices fit very well together, that seems to be the special privilege of a couple in love with each other! Will plays his guitars in this somewhat more uptempo song. Absolutely great lyrics: "I saw you last night on the TV screen / Your hair and suit were perfect but your face looked mean / You said you'd save my soul on an I.O.U." We can basically fill in the name of whoever we want here, from a money grabbing TV preacher to a power hungry politician or even worse: the so-called Christian politicians who constantly let everybody down!
"One Thousand Birds" is a special composition halfway the album. More than seven minutes long, a stunning instrumental, just that special guitar Will plays and it was recorded in one take!! He lets the guitar 'speak' and shows off his incredible talent, holding my full attention, up to the last second. "28 Days" is a remarkable track too. While actor John Ventimiglia recites his spoken word part, Will sings the verses. "I need a smoke the air up here is too thin / Descending down on Salt Lake 28 Days begin / Going to Salt Lake to see about a sin / To see about a sin." Definitely intriguing! In "Seeing Just Fine" Will is using more of his vocal range, he has a lot more to offer than just the 'deep' voice. "Quiet eyes surround me / A noisy air fills my mind / Who among you see that there's more than one way down the line / Cause I'm seeing just fine." An atmospheric, fine song indeed. "Kyoto" is my favorite on this album. There's some whistling throughout, it's jazzy, hypnotizing and even a little ominous. The message is simple, yet effective: "The experts say we're headed for warm days / Today's actions, actions prevent tomorrow's ways / Good old Al, he testified / While old George and his buddies are out painting black skies / So it goes, so they say / Where are you all going to find yourself at the end of this long day?" That arrangement is one of a kind, it even has a Japanese touch in the end! I find it impossible to put "Flow" in a 'box', it has influences from countryblues and jazz, the vocal is echoing, the guitarplaying passionate and the whole song spellbinding. "Look to your horizon / Steady the wheel and flow", great metaphor. The last track "Polka Dot Dresses, Red Lipstick & White Wine" is catchy, a countrysong with a Will King-twist and influences from jugband and old-time music with a bit of rockabilly. "We will get through this work week singing Friday night's refrains". Rita's verse is a surprise, followed by an accordion. A perfect last song with a very strong fade-out ending.
Yes, recommended. Of course! One of those albums that you love more, every time you give it a spin. This is Americana in the full sense of the word. A word that I don't like to use, actually. But it fits here, there are traces from just about every musical style to be found: folk, countryblues, soul, bluegrass, old-time and a lot of jazz. That jazz background is very important, together with Will's open mind it lays the foundation for a unique sound. Will is an excellent guitarplayer and -in closing of- one more quote about the voice, that I really like: "Eddie Vedder sings Woody Guthrie"!
Written by Johanna J. Bodde, June 2008