by Craig Howieson
Close to ten years since his last release, How To Love is a breathtaking return
‘The mystery it’s calling you.’
How To Love is the third full length from Dan Willson (a.k.a. Withered Hand), and first in close to ten years since its predecessor New Gods. To describe it as a beautiful record would be somewhat of an understatement, as not only does Willson wrestle with the mysteries and complexities of love that keep even the most jaded of us awake at night. He does it against the backdrop of the finest sounding songs of his career. These are songs cracked with anxiety and longing, but resolute in their determination to fill the potholes we encounter in life with as much hope as possible.
As the steady spine of bass guitar on Crippled Love props Willson up for its emphatic chorus (complete with backing vocals from King Creosote), it’s hard not to believe there may be someone out there who can see the better parts of us (‘Speak to part of me that’s more than what I do / If I sing let me sing to the light in you’).
More so than ever before this record feels like a full band affair, and with the affectionately named WH Salvation Choir providing back-up vocals, Willson’s words, although at times intensely personal, never sound like isolated musings. There is still religious imagery abound, as has become customary for Withered Hand, but it only adds to the depth of scrutiny that he brings to his subject matter. Bold themes call for bold metaphors after all. The titanic centre piece of Serenity Prayer is a dark groove in which Willson strives to drag himself out of the shadows (‘I was forgetting my real name’). The record then, almost immediately, finds more positive footing as the sparkle of guitar and handclaps herald in Misery & Company, as serotonin rushes find a heart renewed, and blood rushes once again through the capillaries.
If How To Love needed a mission statement, then it finds one on the album’s final track. ‘Beautiful soul / Carry the sorrow / Oh, bring it to the light / Now, Let it go.’ We can purge our demons through sharing with those around us. And Willson may not have the answers as the ‘how to love’ but on this record he shows he understands you have to throw your whole self into it. And that’s exactly what he and his band have done.
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