Listening to Willy Mason, it is hard to remember that the voice being projected through the speakers belongs to a youth barely twenty-two years old. His voice is a true hybrid, mixing influences of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and William Elliot Whitmore, producing a voice that is mature beyond its years. Accompanied by an array of instruments that help to complement his traditional folk roots, Mason plays music that evokes the spirits of small town America, referring to his mother as "momma," and creating a sound that is not terribly catchy, but refuses to leave the confines of your brain. If the Ocean Gets Rough forces you to smile while holding back tears, as it is as joyous as it is heartbreaking.
The album opens up with "Gotta Keep Walking," a song with vocal stylings reminiscent of Springsteen's Nebraska, without all of the darkness and despair. With a rambling guitar and steady drumbeats, the song breaks into a triumphant chorus, as Mason recalls his mother's teachings with a viola as his backdrop. "The World That I Wanted" follows, weaving the tale of a boy that barely knows his father, but still to his own surprise, breaks down when his father finally died. With a mandolin intricately entering and exiting the song, "The World That I Wanted," is the saddest song If the Ocean Gets Rough has to offer.
What Mason does so well are the little things, nothing spectacular or extremely noticeable, but rather the pinch of salt that gives the songs their entire flavor. In "We Can Be Strong," it's the backing vocals of Nina Violet as the pair sing the song's chorus with soul and power as a brooding piano plays in the background. In "When the Ocean Gets Rough," it's the slight and subtle pause between the body of the song and the chorus, as Mason's voice and the twinkle of bells enter back into the song, with Mason pleading to, "Sail on, my love."
As the album progresses, the songs interchange from joyous to melancholy, never letting the listener feel too much of one emotion. While "I Can't Sleep" sounds like it was made with the airy "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in mind, a few songs later the album presents, "Simple Town," about a town that chokes the life out of Mason. The album concludes with "When the Leaves Have Fallen," one of the strongest songs on the album, about the search for truth and the overthrow of traditional and oppressing beliefs.
Like Dylan and Springsteen, Mason's songs also have brief and subtle political overtones to them. While not the key messages in his songs, he sings of ditching soldiers blindly marching to war and the business mentality of religious and educational institutes, and during "Save Myself," Mason boldly states, "I live in a country with no history, I've got to save myself."
If the Ocean Gets Rough is a beautiful album conducted by a youth that sings with the grit and spirit that far surpasses his age. Mason has found his talent, and unlike many young musicians of today, he is no longer searching for his voice. He is confident in his talents, and that talent is completely and utterly displayed on If the Ocean Gets Rough.
8.8 / 10
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