Wisconsin has seen no shortage of uber-talented folk solo artists come to prominence in the past few years. But perhaps none of these acoustic-guitar wielding troubadours has carved a more distinctive niche than Milwaukee's own Hayward Williams. Williams signature is his silky-smooth deep baritone voice that seeps into the bones of the listener much like that of The National's Matt Berninger.
Williams has released three full-length albums since coming on the scene in 2005, including 2009's well-received Cotton Bell, which saw the artist strip his sound down to a minimalistic, earthy masterwork. With this week's release of Haymaker (funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign), Williams ups the ante and the intensity, opting instead for a more robust production. And in the process this roots rocker adds another layer of accomplishment to an already impressive repertoire.
"Siren Sound" leads off the effort as a droning mood piece that sets the tone right out of the gates. This album is all attitude from front to back, showcasing a musician truly at home in his artistic skin. "What's Coming" follows and shifts the mood dramatically, turning into a flat-out rocker by the end propelled forward by a frantic overdriven guitar solo.
The vibe takes another turn with the songs "A Drop in the Delta" and "Before the Storm," which absolutely drip with southern attitude and angst. And though the aesthetic shifts stylistically from tune to tune, the overriding theme that holds it all together throughout is Williams' pitch-perfect and iconic voice. Confident and honey-coated, it effortlessly floats above the lush, understated musical arrangements, no matter the style. Other highlights include the heart-string tugging ballads "High Horse" and "Winter Bird" along with the borderline creepy "Deadwood Calm."
In all Haymaker comes across as a worthy slice of Americana served up by a rising star in the genre. With a songwriting wit and smooth vocalizations that rank up there with anyone in the current folk landscape, Williams seems due for some larger recognition in the near future. And if this effort is any indication, it shouldn't be too long now.
Listen to tracks from the upcoming release here
and see Hayward Williams at his CD Release show Sunday, October 7, at The Miramar Theatre (7 p.m.). Tickets are $15 and include your very own copy of Haymaker