The opening bars of “Can’t Go Back,” the first track of Bill Abernathy’s new album Crossing Willow Creek, welcomes us into the Kansas City singer/songwriter’s soul with a warm embrace, washing us in rich tonality and country-style twang. A message of holding onto your memories whilst letting go of the past is imparted to us through bittersweet lyrics that ebb and flow with the intensity of the instrumentation. The honky tonk gives way to a purring piano in “Changes,” a simple ballad that slowly evolves into a country rock jam for the ages. Shades of Joe Cocker and Bob Seger reverberate in Abernathy’s rich drawl, and any potential debate over his skillset as a vocalist is shutdown on the spot.
A beautiful 12-string guitar harmony brings us into “Willow Creek,” an emotional, personal track that takes inspiration from Abernathy’s youth and life experiences to forge something that is relatable and also somewhat educational. I think that every musician has a “Willow Creek” – its pristine waters are symbolic of tapping into a creative channel that once evaded us, discovered only through a devotion to the majesty of songcraft. “Cry Wolf” is a much more dangerous, rock-heavy moment for Crossing Willow Creek, but it maintains vintage folk themes in its lyricism, which is scathing and political in nature.
Love, romance and reflection are all staples of the sonic oasis that is “Meant to Be,” a guitar ballad that highlights Abernathy’s awesome command of melody. The organic production of this track, like that of the rest of the album, is stunning to take in. The powerful lyrics are made all the more endearing by the means of which we’re able to make contact with them. There isn’t a silly scoop in the EQ nor a plastic-faceted insularity in the master mix, and thus the vocals and the guitar both end up sounding physical and real. The detail that songs like this one and the more riff-heavy “Whiskey Road” boast would be lost on us were it not for this record’s amazing varnish, which is as attractive in its own right as any of the material it frames is.
“Love’s In Vain” is an acoustic power ballad that vaults between country groove and folkie melody a number of times before making room for the stylish “White Knight” and “Any Port,” the latter of which is deceptively easy-going in its rhythm but cutting and unapologetic with its lyrics. There’s plenty of contrast in this record to keep listeners on their toes as they wander through the eleven tracks, but for as diverse a set list as this album has nothing feels fragmented or unfinished as we approach its conclusion.
Guitar rock reigns supreme in “Yuppie Blues,” a low-end drenched protest song that requires little more than a maxed out volume knob to fully appreciate its grandeur. We finish with “Icarus,” which artfully brings us full circle and returns us safely to the comforts of Abernathy’s amazing vocals, which soar towards the sky against the backdrop of a primeval folk-driven melody.
Crossing Willow Creek is an engaging listen to put it mildly, and hardcore fans of folk and country music would be robbing themselves of a powerful audiological experience by not checking out Bill Abernathy’s new record this fall.