Folk artist is breathing new life into the genre
by Ryan Butcher
The world watched with bated breath as Barack Obama was re-elected for four more years in the White House.
But while the majority of western civilisation breathed a collective sigh of relief, the outcry from the Republicans and the far-right shows that America is as split and divided as ever.
And if there's one man who knows about a divided America, it's Willy Mason.
One of the biggest and best-loved names in contemporary folk music, Mason is best-known for his 2005 crossover single Oxygen.
A simple yet touching call for unity and change, Oxygen was written by Mason when he was just a teenager living through the Bush administration – when his world was a much darker and drearier place.
In the air of excitement which followed the election, Mason is in the midst of touring the UK with the spellbinding Ben Howard, but he's not so attached that he can't share his hopeful optimism at the prospect of another term of Obama.
"Some people say that it doesn't matter who you vote for and that we don't wield any real power," he says.
"But I think that's debatable. It's significant to have an ally in the White House and the way people vote sends out a strong messages as to what our priorities are and lets people know that whether it's votes or money that controls the world, they're both forces that are controlled by people."
Yes, the world is a different place now to when Mason first wrote Oxygen, a song which lampooned the young songwriter with a dreaded "new Dylan" name tag, but on the plus side, allowed him to tour the world with his quite excellent pair of albums Where The Humans Eat and If The Ocean Gets Rough.
But, sometime after 2007, Mason disappeared back to his childhood home of Martha's Vineyard in a bid to reconnect with his freedom, his inspiration and his childhood roots.
"I felt like I wanted, needed, to get stuck in somewhere and to keep up with what was going on with people my own age," explains Mason.
"But three years or so went by and I looked in my song bag and found that I had another album.
"I hit the road again because I didn't really have anyone working with me at that point and I took any gigs that I could. One thing led to another and I found myself in London with Dan Carey, a producer.
"We met up in a studio and I played him a couple of songs and we decided there and then that we were going to make an album."
What came out of those sessions with Dan, who is best-known for working with artists polar opposite to Mason, like Kyle Minogue and MIA, was Carry On – Mason's first LP in five years.
But while cultures, trends and governments may have changed significantly in the last five years, the messages embedded in Mason's work have stayed the same – perseverance and careful consideration of the changing world around him.
"It's a bit hard to put into words," he continues, "but there is a theme to Carry On.
"It's a narrative loosely based on me, on my character through performance, and I think that by completing it, I'm sort of closing the door on that and opening up a whole new world of possibilities.
"The keystone to the record is a song called Shadows in the Dark.
"It's about a subtle rethinking of choosing one's destination over the progression of time and, when I wrote it, suddenly everything fit together."
Willy Mason will be Ben Howard's special guest when he plays at Lincoln's Engine Shed on Tuesday, November 20.
Doors open at 7pm and entry is strictly over 16s only. For more visit www.engineshed.co.uk.