I think its fair to say that the third full length release from Will Varley, his first on Xtra Mile Recordings, comes with considerable expectations following rave reviews of his previous work and a touring schedule which includes a support slot with Frank Turner.
Varley is a storyteller; an artist with a message, and the album title along with its artwork gives us a clear indication of where he’s going with this one. Postcards From Ursa Minor, a reference to making contact with outer space, braces us for a philosophically profound journey.
We are greeted however with an opening tale of scrubbing decks, lighting fires and drinking beer. ‘As For My Soul’ sounds like the soundtrack to a crew of pirates hoisting the masts as they prepare to sail to sea. “Light a fire! Drink a beer! Sing a song!” Varley chants, backed by the distinctive vocals of Frank Turner, who makes regular appearances throughout, and gravelly tone of label-mate Beans On Toast. It is a style that suits him so well it leaves you wondering why you haven’t heard it before.
It doesn’t take long for Varley’s more sincere side to come through and the albums second track, ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’, is probably it’s best. The song tells the story of Jose Matata, an African immigrant, who’s body was found in London after falling from an airplane in 2009 while trying to gain entry to the UK. The tracks opening seconds are gripping. Slowly picking at guitar strings and heartstrings in sync, Varley’s incredible vocals and a Piano’s subtle presence make this one of the best examples of his songwriting to date.
Intricate finger picking patterns and compassionate storytelling continue throughout the record with ‘Love From Halcyon’ and ‘Outside over There’, a tale of a young girl battling through a life plagued by Warfare.
The record has a heavier focus on relationships, a subject seemingly not favoured by Varely in the past, in the form of ‘This House’ and ‘Dark Days Away’. The pop melody of ‘Seize the Night’, as the title would suggest, produces the most positive sounding track on the album.
In ‘Talking Cat Blues’, Varley displays his ability to switch between compassion and satire using his wit and dry tone. Rambling humorously about the modern worlds worryingly poor use of the Internet and obsession with videos of our pets abnormal behavior. As we picture one of our four legged friends playing a guitar, smoking a cigar and singing Kanye West songs, we get a sense of the comedy Varley offers at his live shows. Should the subject be of Cowboys and not Felines however, this song would not sound out of place on a Johnny Cash record.
“Maybe I got older, and maybe I can’t see, or maybe I just realised that I want to be free”, Varley gently strums away while reflecting without regret on a life path diverting from romance, in ‘Send My Love to the System’.
‘Concept of Freedom’ is the records strongest representation of Varley’s renowned Political influence, whilst ‘Is Anyone out There?’ epitomizes the overall theme of the record. A call for help, in the form of a postcard from a foreign constellation, to give us hope of repairing a world too damaged to be saved by it’s currant occupiers.
Catchy chorus’, beautiful harmonies and thought provoking lyrics are things Will Varley sounds like he does in his sleep. This album is certainly an evolution from its preceding efforts, and a formula that worked so well on ‘As the Crow Flies’ and particularly ‘Advert Soundtracks’, has produced another flawless record.