Arkansas-based country and old-time troubadour Willi Carlisle has announced his upcoming, Darrell Scott-produced album, Critterland, with a delightful stop-motion music video. (Watch above.) Set for release January 26, 2024 on Signature Sounds, the collection once again draws on Carlisle’s apt self-positioning as a sort of rural, countercultural, folklorist guru, crafting poetic yet down-to-earth songs that feel all at once fantastic, resplendent, whimsical, and– well, trashy. It’s a dichotomy not unknown to American roots musics, but rarely is this paradoxical construct inhabited so intentionally and subverted so artfully. It’s a language Carlisle isn’t just fluent in, it oozes from his spirit and lives in his bones.
On “Critterland,” Carlisle positions himself not as an omniscient narrator, but well within his own communities – musical and otherwise – as he examines how the “big tent” of his prior album, Peculiar, Missouri, could be put into action. And, in doing so, he demonstrates how varied, broad, deep – and sometimes ugly – open arm, open heart policies can be. But in that mundane, in that bittersweet, there is endless beauty.
With that thought in mind, Darrell Scott as producer and collaborator here isn’t merely a solid choice, but a nearly perfect one. You hear his touches in the confidence Carlisle has stepped into – with hundreds and hundreds of shows under his belt – with his soaring, passionate vocal on “Critterland,” raising its possums and raccoons and armadillos to saint-like status. Because, after all, aren’t all living beings divine? Don’t we all have something to contribute to our own, particular critterlands? Carlisle says so, and makes a compelling case.
This 2024 album will be a must-listen.
Photo Credit: Madison Hurley