A Wisconsin native with a discography that's as varied as it is good, Willy Porter is now in his third decade of playing rock, blues and folk tunes. Porter's latest release, Human Kindness, showcases his charming songs and masterful guitar work.
Figuring out where to dive into a decades-long body of work can be a daunting task. If you're intent on familiarizing yourself with Porter's music before his March 28 performance at the High Noon Saloon, the following songs are excellent entry points:
"Cool Water," The Trees Have Soul, 1990
Sometimes the most reasonable place to start is at the beginning, with the first track on Porter's label debut, The Trees Have Soul. Though the lyrics focus on secrets and cloudy skies, "Cool Water" feels instrumentally relaxed -- truly as cool as its p implies.
"Jesus on the Grille," Dog-Eared Dream, 1994
This is arguably one of the funkiest offerings from Porter's long career. Built on a groovy bass part and drum rhythms that straddle the line between reggae and mainstream country music, the track became a crowd-pleaser during the Porter's days on the national touring circuit in the mid-1990s. And while the song offers religious commentary, it maintains a fun, light tone.
"Paper Airplane," Falling Forward, 1999
At first, "Paper Airplane" feels like a simple love song. Strumming an acoustic guitar and accompanied by a string section, Porter details all the ways he wants to show his affection for a nearby lover. Yet as the song progresses, the instrumentation picks up and Porter's lyrics become a tad eerie, melancholy and sappy.
"All Fall Down," Willy Porter, 2002
Willy Porter's self-pd record again finds the musician taking steps forward as a guitarist and a songwriter. This album standout is boosted by a backing choir, a wailing organ and one of Porter's strongest vocal performances. As with much of his work, the lyrics are riddled with doubt, but the drumbeat remains relaxed, and the guitar chords ring with optimism.
"Sleepy Little," Available Light, 2006
Available Light was the first record Porter released on his own label, Weasel Records, and it's no stretch to guess that his newfound musical freedom helped to bolster the album's intimate feel. "Sleepy Little" sits smack-dab in the middle of the 10-track effort, which was mixed by Grammy-winning producer Neil Dorfsman. A meditative, polished instrumental, the song displays not only Porter's intricate guitar work but also his ear for arrangement.
"How to Rob a Bank," How to Rob a Bank, 2009
In "How to Rob a Bank," Porter critiques Wall Street and the recession that was still going strong in 2009. Both playful and immensely critical, it finds Porter channeling his inner Bob Dylan. A mournfully delightful horn section blasts throughout the choruses.
"Chippewa Boots," Human Kindness, 2015
From its full-band feel to its Kickstarter funding, Human Kindness exudes collaboration. The record's second track, the radiant "Chippewa Boots," commits wholly to that communal attitude: whistling, vocal harmonies, flute and that wailing organ all make appearances here. After 25 years in the game, Porter is still willing to let the good times roll.