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Review: Willy Porter / Available Light

by Jeremy Berg

How best to describe Milwaukee’s own Willy Porter? Well, put it this way: There are a lot of guys out there with acoustic guitars, but most of them aren’t buddies with Jethro Tull. Yes, Porter is well known as a singersongwriter – and deservedly so – but that’s too narrow a label to really tell what he’s about, and his latest record, Available Light, hammers it home.

His range in sound and subject is present right from the opening title cut, which takes the phrase “available light” and stretches it from plants taking in energy, to the open spaces remaining in a troubled relationship, to Galileo using it literally and figuratively to change the world.

Nor are the lyrics the only highlight. Porter recorded this album with his touring band, and they prove to be as versatile and multi-faceted as he is, adding spacy atmosphere (“Available Light,” “Where Are My Keys?”), poignancy (“Still Doing Time,” “Me & My Old Man,”) and a driving rock beat (“Loose Gravel,” “Reveal”) as needed. When combined with Porter’s excellent acoustic guitar technique, it’s no wonder that the instrumental tracks are as expressive as the rest.

Lyrics, though, remain one of Porter’s strengths. On Available Light, they’re never less than good, and occasionally stunning. “Me & My Old Man” is a loving tribute to Porter’s late father that is neither maudlin nor melancholy, and “One More September” brilliantly captures the World Trade Center attack where it really counts – its impact on the life of an ordinary family, changed forever by a world that can’t get along. And even here there’s a message of hope and love, in the gorgeous image of a child setting a letter on fire so that the rising ashes will take it up to her mother. Beauty and loss in the available light.

Riverwest Currents online edition – November, 2006