The Willing – Full Circle

 The Willing – Full Circle

The Willing – Full Circle – Album Review

It is very clear that these fine young gentlemen right here know exactly what they’re doing.

Alright…so…you know I just call it like I hear it, so here goes – let’s talk about The Willing and their brand-new record called Full Circle.  The initial reaction I had in listening to “Having A Good Time” when I started listening to this album, was that I was going to indeed need another cup of coffee if I had any hope of keeping up to the energy these guys were pumping outta that very first tune.  It is radiantly apparent right from the “Woo hooooo” that “Having A Good Time” starts out with that these guys are indeed, “Having A Good Time” – and you’ll hear some of the many reasons as to why that is when you dig right into the lyricism and hear it in the spark of the unified way these guys play their tunes together.  You could make a solid argument here that The Willing have their own anthem built in to this very first cut on their fourth record…there’s just something so wonderfully joyous about listening to music that you know beyond the shadow of a doubt, has been created by people that music really matters TO – you feel me?  The boys in The Willing might have more pep in their step than I’d ever be able to hang with personally…and from this first experience & impression, I can tell you that without question, they are SO MUCH friendlier than I will ever be in this lifetime – I aspire to look at life from the point of view & fun perspective these guys have, and can only humbly pray that maybe, just maybe, I’ll get there one day.  In terms of sound – they know right where they fit – as I looked them up to see if there was a Crosby, Stills, and Nash (or better yet, Nash AND Young, as we see on their social media) – the other references you’ll see listed there apply, but they nailed what I would have said right off the bat in this apt comparison.

Look…like…I know y’all are probably going to be more partial to the opener than you will be to “Welcome To Life,” but whatever to that I say, this second cut shows more depth to the band’s songwriting, so there – take THAT folks!  Here’s the nitty gritty…they’re both solid tunes and I don’t want anyone to get it twisted, I’m not actually complaining at all; I’m just explaining the nature of the way music works and the energies listeners tend to respond to en masse is all.  The songwriters & musicians out there?  They’re on my side here folks, I promise ya that.  There’s a lot of depth to a tune like “Welcome To Life” and a real dedication to getting the most sweetness out of this vibe in a very earnest, humble, and natural way that’s going to resonate with us…and it felt like they really did a great job with this all-around.  Hearing the progression of the melody as they drift past that first-minute mark and slowly but surely into the chorus was a genuine treat – you can audibly hear both the care & passion that The Willing puts into the magic of their music – and it counts for so much!  If you want a spot that’ll really separate those listening from those who are just hearing “Welcome To Life” – see if you can pick out the word-for-word quick reference to the legendary “Stairway To Heaven” that gets put into the lyricism.  I’ll admit, you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find it in a song that’s so different by comparison, and maybe just maybe it’s one of those moments where two writers have written the same thing, but I’d imagine this is yet another one of the ingredients that makes this life worth living to these guys.  The reality is, many of them were there in the front row for the Zeppelin era.  Plus ”Welcome To Life” even starts out by referencing songwriting & creating tunes…I mean…I think it’s pretty safe to say the line they’ve put in here is no accident, but another clever choice that demonstrates another many of the things that has made this journey on this floating rock we share, awesome for them all in looking back on what they’ve lived through.  It’s one thing to listen to “Stairway To Heaven” – it’d be another thing to have lived through it wouldn’t you think?  I missed out on that by a decade or two…I can only imagine…and I do.  Regardless…this is all just a theory I have – the reality is, they’re soundin’ good!

“You Got This One” draws on the band’s positive attitude, and I think a lot of people out there will connect to the heart & soul of this tune.  It’s about realizing potential, accepting yourself as the beautiful soul that you are, and celebrating all that good-good stuff – much of what this very band right here is built on themselves I suspect.  After all I’ve read about the friendship that drives the core of The Willing and their many shared interests from the sound of their music to the type of gear they’re all using – these guys get right into the craft from the ground up, and believe me when I say, you can hear it in all the right ways.  This is also a tune where you hear that distinction of the difference between a Crosby, Stills, And Nash comparison, versus the more complete picture that applies to The Willing even more, with the inclusion of Neil Young back in the lineup where he once was with David, Stephen, and Graham back in the day – that’s right where you can trace the roots of a sound like you’ll hear flow throughout the vocals & music of “You Got This One.”  In terms of sentiment & songwriting combined together, The Willing shows a remarkable amount of heart, solidarity, strength, and encouragement within this tender tune – quite honestly, I find this track tremendously inspiring on several levels.  I think the vocals & lyrics are bound to be what’ll hit most people first – this song has a wonderful message found at its core – but once again, it’s the unified togetherness of this band playing as one that seems to make those words of theirs so very, very real to us.  Think about the sentiment of “You Got This One” and how it has such a warm & comforting vibe to it – that’s called sincerity folks, that’s what you’re hearing there – and it translates beyond the words into the music they play & the way they live their own lives I’d bet…you can hear how each player is right there to back each other up at every moment, which is really what a song like this is all about.  It’s almost like…like they’re saying something akin & along the lines of “You Got This One” – but just in case you don’t…don’t worry about it, cause I’m right there to catch you if you stumble.  As a result, we really feel those comforting vibes come through with resounding strength here in the most delicate of settings…you get one of The Willing’s best right here in the balance of strengths within this whole cut.

“Beautiful Sunshine” dials back the brightness a bit as it begins, giving this song a more serious vibe than you would have found right beforehand in “You got This One.”  That being said & all…it’s hard to say we’re getting too serious here when we’ve got a chorus that repeats “Hello beautiful sunshine,” and the playful combination of keyboards & harmonies goin’ on, you dig?  It might seem like it sounds more serious than many of the others by comparison, but make no mistake, their sunny disposition is still fully intact, just displayed in a different form here is all.  The more I got into this record, the more I appreciated the way that The Willing do what they do, and how remarkably unified this band truly IS – every single one of these songs is made by a genuine collaboration of equal strengths that all adds to the sum total of the results.  As in, these guys ALL pull their individual weight, and it stacks up real nice when it’s all combined together – The Willing can play, they can sing, they can write…all the ingredients are there.  Whether or not you feel like they have a sound rooted in the past, or perfect right now for the present – the factual bottom line is there’s a massive audience out there for a band with a sound like this that has as much skill as these dudes have.  As professional as they are entertaining – “Beautiful Sunshine” is a noticeably different vibe that occurs early on this set-list, offering a similar sentiment in the words, but a totally unique sound to the overall results.  While there’s value always to be found in doing something slightly differently – there’s also value in just plain’ ol sounding good too – and I think the boys from The Willing tend to benefit greatly from both when it comes to this tune.  They’ve got themselves a highly memorable hook in the chorus of this song that makes it a candidate as a single too.

Like…honestly, all feelings aside one way or the other regarding your personal taste for a second – listen to just how incredible the structure & sound of “Higher” is will ya?  I’m not suggesting this is a bad tune – far from it and completely the opposite really – I’m just saying take all that outta the equation for a second or two, and just marvel and the magnificence in the way these guys put a tune together will ya?  Love the way the piano/keyboards, horns, guitar, and drums interact through this tune and give the music such a spark of personality while the bass-lines hold the fort steady in the rhythm section.  “Higher” is one of those cuts with multi-dimensional meanings and wildly interpretive values to the lyricism…some out there will take this as religious connotations, some of you will listen to this tune and realize that the core messages here certainly apply to a great many of us and the positive attitudes we try to preserve & present daily.  With the addition of the gospel-esque choir backing-vocals, there’s no doubt that once again, the cleverness of their songwriting pops up here, so that the interpretive value of how we listen to music as individuals, is left there in the open to help us fill in the gaps for ourselves.  In essence, a song like “Higher” is truly about what it means to YOU…it’ll likely largely reflect a lot of your own values and attitude right back towards you, and you’ll find what you get out of it is in-line with what you believe it to be about.  That’s the magic of perception and projection as one; we’ll hear this song like we hear so many, internalize it, and apply it to our own lives and how we lead’em.  “Higher” is another well-intentioned tune with an exceptionally well thought-out design to it that provides genuine depth.

I wasn’t always as sold on “Who Wants To Fall” as much as I was instantly on the other tracks to this point on the record, though I’d readily concede they are also attempting something different here too.  While it’s not fully show-tune, or lounge-act, or too theatrical…there is a more tangibly dramatized performance at work here, that may or may not be everyone’s jam out there.  Still a good tune by any measure as far as my ears can tell, but definitely not quite that same level of magic I felt in the pull towards the record’s first five tunes in terms of being wowed by something.  And that’s not always what we need in the music we listen to…sometimes we just want something steady & reliable, and in that sense, it’d be tough to argue that “Who Wants To Fall” doesn’t have itself a happy lil’ home here within the confines of Full Circle.  When it comes to the chorus, I gotta admit…they might have more here than I’m giving them credit for on these initial spins through the record…time will tell the full tale as it always does of course, but a large part of me certainly suspects I could very well be singing this one around the house.  They’re embracing the love and their own sweetened spirit on “Who Wants To Fall” – and hey, it’s pretty hard to resist these competent & capable veterans whenever they wanna turn on the charm.

Even adding a bit of ambient sound into the mix with the birds all chirpin’ to start things up on “Six In The Morning” – this gentle melody has a big booming beat to it, a comforting shake in the mix, stellar guitar in the mix when it shows up, and a warm glow to the harmonies that gets revealed around the two-minute mark that provides a massive highlight not only to this track, but to this record overall.  It’s highly noticeable that The Willing ARE willing to go all-in when it comes time to push the recording button and get in the ol’ studio – and here in the subtlest of moments is where you can really hear that.  Whereas so many out there will put a milder performance into a more delicate setting, these veteran aces in The Willing show you how to really get the results you want – and that’s to remain just as bold as ever, even in the quietest moments.  A pro will always tell ya the softer sounds take just as much energy & effort to get right as an up-tempo cut will take – but when you can do that, and do it well, it’ll sound like “Six In The Morning.”  Beautiful piano leading the way…it’s well sung…there’s no doubt tunes like “Six In The Morning are much rarer to be found out there in the mainstream these days, but so what?  When you’ve got a song that needs to be sung, you do the right thing, and ya sing it – The Willing are always willing to get right into whatever style or sound they’ve come up with next, and that in itself is continually impressive as you listen to this record…the commitment, focus, passion, and professional precision in their performances is always there.  Listening to this song slide past the two minute mark, warm up with the stunning background vocals, then dial-back the energy so expertly to reveal the true beauty in the melody of the verse was an excellent move on their part…it’s the cleverness of their songwriting and use of the loud/quiet dynamics that have “Six In The Morning” come out so compelling.

“Feels So Good” would be up there with my favorites from this record for sure.  I love the steady beat of the drums, I love the piano & guitars springing to life towards the finale & final ninety-seconds or so, and I absolutely love, love, LOVE the harmonies this band brings to their music.  I swear, this is what unity truly sounds like folks – you can completely tell how much fun they’re having, how much they WANT to do what they’re doing in The Willing, and how ready they are for this moment, on every one of these songs.  Relentlessly positive pretty much too…”Feels So Good” is yet another one of the celebratory style vibes you’ll find on Full Circle, of which there are many.  Proportionally-speaking…there’s more positivity flowing throughout these tunes than you’ll find in the lineup of just about any record outside of the motivational spoken-word section.  Listen to this tune develop though will ya?  The way the piano complements the vocal melody in that first thirty-five seconds or so is wonderful to listen to, and only fifteen seconds on down the road, you’ll hear The Willing blossom into one of the most memorable moments and beautiful hooks you’ll find on the whole record.  Definitely a track I’d be taking a hard look at as a potential single & gateway into this album for the masses out there…”Feels So Good” doles out what its title implies it should – it’s got an uplifting aura & vibe you couldn’t possibly miss, and as a result, that refreshing & sensory feeling gets passed right onto us through their unified harmonies and stellar musicianship.  Love the electric guitar as we head towards the third minute & in the finale, and I loved that vocal breakdown they use found here once again – any time the spotlight is shone directly on what this capable crew of friends can capture through the microphone, you really feel the magic, 100%.

Like for example, listen to the bold vocals rise up in a unified front as the next song begins!  A track like “Love You Til I Die” arguably ventures a bit further into the terrain once occupied by Journey, which is certainly still well within the wheelhouse of these young gentlemen of The Willing and what likely helped shape & influence many of the players inside of this band over time.  I’m kinda of two minds when it comes to this particular tune if I’m being honest with ya…I have zero doubt about the strengths it has and the vast appeal of its potential when it comes to the masses out there…yet something about this song always made me wonder whether or not it belonged to this specific record and its set-list as much as the majority of the others by comparison.  Certainly not a knock on their songwriting, not their performances, not their efforts – all that is perfectly in-line, let me be clear…I’m simply wondering aloud if this might have almost made for a solid tune to base that next record around, you dig?  Recognize that from where you start with “Having A Good Time,” and to end up all the way over here with “Love You Til I Die” speaks volumes of the terrain they’ve traversed throughout the distance of Full Circle.  Stylistically & sound-wise, heck, even thematically, there’s miles of distance separating these two poles of measurement, but give them credit for the fact that we do seem to transition to this point gradually enough.  You may agree, you may not agree…I might have been inclined to put both “Love You Til I Die” and “Last Hour Of Sunlight” on an album where the radiantly happy vibes might be traded for a more serious atmosphere like you hear in these two back-to-back tunes.  “Last Hour Of Sunlight” gets a bit closer to how I felt about “Who Wants To Fall” earlier on; still not a bad tune by any measure, just further removed from my own personal taste a bit here and arguably a bit more of a theatrically-inclined performance in the mix here for ya.  I’ll admit, it gives this tune very much of a story-line atmosphere & presentation, of which the lyricism certainly doesn’t shy away from – The Willing more or less go pretty epic on ya here when it comes to how much is involved in making a slow-burning song that unfolds the way this one does.  I’ve definitely got no substantial complaints to make, nor am I ever searching for any to begin with – but yeah, “Last Hour Of Sunlight” definitely does explore the more serious side of this band’s sound in tandem with “Love You Til I Die”…and there is a part of me that wonders whether or not the people out there listening will feel it’s as suited to their strengths as the good-time vibes are.  That might be up for debate…their execution & commitment in their performances will not be…however we might feel as individual listeners aside, they should be proud of how this whole lineup came out, 100%.

With the smooth bass-lines and glowing aura of vocals opening up the final track “Kisses From The Moon,” you can almost feel the curtains going up here to signal that this experience is nearly over.  A poetically designed love song that does a great job of providing sincerely expressive vocals and music, The Willing muses on the moon and stars and that beautiful stuff you wanna hear in a tune like this.  Purposely sentimental and dripping with enchanting sound, I love the way the drums sound in this song with that steady one-beat, the percussion surrounding it & subtle guitars…and ultimately, I like that there’s actually quite a bit of space in this last song for the majority of its length.  It’s excellent to hear the band spring to life for that final ninety seconds and put in a bit more to the thickness of this melody, but I also like how the more bare-bones beginning half of this song really allows us to appreciate all that The Willing bring to their vocals in the harmonies when the space is the most spare.  Again, credit where credit is due – they’re STILL adding new dimensions to the sound of this entire record right up to the very last opportunity they have to do it with the final track “Kisses From The Moon.”  Harmonies & backing vocals as on-point & essential as they have been to this whole lineup of songs, and another unique approach to their music on display here at the end; they retain the essence of what has made us enjoy this album all along with its tangible sweetness in the vocals & lyricism – but you really gotta marvel at just how well they’ve assembled and structured this final track to give this album a strong conclusion via the most delicate & tempered of means.  You feel that professional control and execution here – The Willing leaves you with that same feeling we came into this record with – these fine gentlemen right here…these men of music…they certainly know their way around the studio and their own instruments – and when combined together, they have fun, they create great tunes and good times for us in the process, and capture a magic that is undoubtedly shared within the room they’re in to an even higher degree.  It’s not JUST about making music for The Willing – it’s about making it, together.

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