I missed the pre-Christmas CD release party for Willy Mason’s newest because I had the three-week malaise that may or may not have been the flu. Fortunately a friend scored me a copy of Carry On. In typical Vineyard fashion he dropped it off at the West Tisbury library’s temporary quarters across the street from Conroy’s; I retrieved it on my next trip to the post office.
I’ve been listening to it ever since. The second cut grabbed me immediately with its opening line, “She woke up with the pieces following her,” then won me over for sure with “She’s got a pickup truck / Sleeps in the back when she gets stuck.”
The image embodies the intertwining themes of the whole album: getting stuck, moving on, carrying what you need with you, leaving the rest behind. The first cut, “What Is This,” evokes the demoralizing big picture with lines like “Evergreens are dying” and “Is it worth trying,” but the rest of the CD responds in the spirit of its title: Carry On. The music sometimes saunters, sometimes strides briskly, but always moves forward at a human pace.
Neither the music nor the lyrics are given to explosion or melodrama, but it’s clear that the singer is intimately acquainted with hardship and despair, his own and those of others. Listen to “Restless Fugitive” (currently available for free download from Willy’s website), in which the battered refugee seems to interrogate himself, with a glint of “get over yourself” humor:
Tell us how they brought you down
And why’d you let them hang around
Tell us when you left the earth
And promise next time you’ll call first
Oh, you restless fugitive
It’s followed by “Show Me the Way to Go Home.” Here a great first line opens into an image both poignant and resonant:
My mother and my father and my television
school my music and my inner visions
My mind is a nation with all of these divisions
Show me the way to go home
Have I got a most favorite song? Put it this way: I’m a word person, and the song I’m most jealous of is the title track, “Carry On.” It opens with the not unusual image of a moth hovering by a bedside lamp — then the moth seems to metamorphose into an Icarus:
his wings are burned he’s falling down
I just watch and wonder how we
A recurring theme throughout the album, but now the songwriter gets specific, reflecting, I suspect, on his early years in the music business:
It was a world I never made
I just fell into that old parade
They told me it’s my time to shine
and they’ve got ways to light me up at night
They didn’t care from where I came
it seemed they lost their pride and shame
looking for a fire of their own . . .
An old man in the bar orders one last drink “to light me up,” but the songwriter is looking beyond the clouds for deeper illumination, “the kind of fire I’d be proud to / carry on.”
Fittingly enough, the last cut is the upbeat “If It’s the End,” a reference to the end of the world that didn’t happen last month, and to the many other endings in life that aren’t as final as they seem.
I’m still bummed that I missed the CD release party, but with Carry On in hand I believe I can wait till the next one.