Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
There are some vehicles that are suited for travel on gravel roads and there are others that react adversely to what lies beneath them, between them and the black dirt of the country. Tractors and combines are treated like friends by these sketchy pathways between fence posts and silos, corncribs and creaky windmills. Big manly trucks are less good, but not terrible. Then you get into a small-size, four-door car meant for the comfortable city streets, with their oak and spruce awnings, and it gets treacherous - scary a bit. The gravel rocks become marbles, or something midway between marbles and pool balls, turning the surface into a greedy killer, or something suspected to be alive and conspiring against getting to point B safely. The gravel will pull your tires east and west, trying to slide you into the deepened wells of the grassy ditches, into the cattails and the road weed, into the chucked Big Mac boxes and rusting cans of Miller Lite. The crunching and the aggravated friction of the rocks and the traveler echo throughout the countryside's, spooking the cows into decreased milk production and sending the pheasants shuttling off from their secluded hiding spots deeper into the itchy and crispy fields of ready-to-harvest corn. Alabaman Willem Maker is a songwriter and singer who bears some of these same characteristics the gravel roads have - the gruff exterior that might just want to be left alone to hear the sunset and the crows fly. He seems to be capable of such dark impulses to break you of your comfort, to jolt you upright into paying closer attention to what you're doing and how you're holding that steering wheel, maybe what's at stake if you slip into complacency once again. He'll git ya. Or it'll git ya. It's a natural force not to be messed with. He takes on the location of these graveled roads, out there connecting the middles of nowhere with the epicenters of claustrophobia - where many see what they consider to be the greatest beauty in all of the bright man-made lights and the brave displays of architectural design. Concrete, steel and glass they'll marvel at, but those dead possums and those skiddish pheasants should just get out of the way, what do they expect to happen so close to those roads? He's also there to help, to lead people to places where they can think thoughts. There are moons and ruins in Maker's head and he's a man who sings as if he were trying to summon the greatness out of all of us - giving us these devastatingly sweet and hearty songs about wilting shadows and wilting love, heavy hearts and the kind of solitude that actually keeps a man company more times than he'd ever be wont to admit before a crowd of people. He seems to sing at the very end of one of these long and straight as an arrow gravel roads. You get to the end of it carefully, using much caution, and he's standing there solemnly, tending to his time and his tasks. He sings about recognizing others who have such heavy loads weighing down on them, but it could be that he has such a keen familiarity with them that it doesn't take much to explain them in such autumnal color. He sings about what he considers to be all the time there is - all of the ticks from the "cradle to the golden grave" - and it sounds as if it's extra special, albeit consuming and occasionally questionable, like it wants to kill you, but still hopes you get to the other end of it to see the sights.
Willem Maker Official Site
Fat Possum Records