Times Square It is a-Changing

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Review of 'Where the Humans Eat' by Willy Mason

My 17 year old daughter said to me one day a few weeks ago, 'Listen to this Mum, I think you'll like it'. So I listened to this song through one ear phone of her pink mini ipod (she insisted on this description!) while she listened to the other one. She was right, I was listening to a young voice singing contemporary poetry of protest, and it was fresh original and challenging. The song was 'Oxygen' by Willy Mason.

'We can be stronger than bombs if you're singing along and you know you really believe...'

I have to admit it did take me back to my student days in someone's cold flat drinking, discussing and listening to an early Bob Dylan album or in my candle lit room listening for the first time to Joan Baez singing Prison Trilogy.

Willy Mason seems to have picked up the baton passed by such singer/songwriters. You can hear their influence, and the earlier influences of Woody Guthrie. He is however an original talent appealing to today's generation. I suspect many have already seen him live as he has evidently been playing to packed audiences in Britain before his debut album was released.

Coincidentally I then heard Mason interviewed on Radio 4's Front Row. He acknowledged that his parents had played a lot of Dylan and Leonard Cohen when he was growing up. He also told a story of singing to a packed anti-war rally in his high school. Another wonderful story related his experiences after being picked up in Times Square on a false drugs charge. The jail pen was crowded with mainly 'fairly tough New York black guys'. They noticed that Mason had a guitar and asked him to sing. He was somewhat apprehensive about his reception! Well he sang to the enthusiastic cheers and applause of his unexpected audience in possibly the strangest venue he will ever perform in!

As my daughter's birthday was coming up I thought a good present would be his album (no self interest there!). The songs are full of ideas and poetry and reflect both personal concerns and ideas and questions about the world. Sometimes the meaning is a bit obscure, maybe that is the Leonard Cohen influence! How refreshing though to get lyrics that require a little more than half a brain cell to understand! The song 'Fear No Pain' seems to echo the black blues traditions of America. I really liked 'Hard Hand to Hold'. It speaks of the contradictions in human relationships but the need for real intimacy. It is about the fear of crime, oppression of women and how people feel safer to blinker themselves against poverty and homelessness.

It is great to hear these songs appealing to my daughter's generation and to be able to share that enthusiasm and pleasure. The last words are Willy's, 'The future looks dark but it's there that the kids of today must carry the light.'