Will Varley is one of those “finger pointing” musicians singing the types of song that Dylan renounced around the time of My Back Pages. Of course, Dylan has pointed his finger at various injustices since those days and folk music has a powerful tradition of protest ranging from simple sloganeering to well-crafted lamentations on injustice and the human condition. On Kingsdown Sundown Varley certainly falls into the latter camp with the album a stark meditation on several woes, the environment, US politics and daily striving all featuring.
Varley’s vulnerable husk of a voice and his intricate guitar skills are the bare bones of the album with an occasional muffled percussive boom punctuating several of the songs. In the main acoustic but with electric guitar buried in the mix on Let Your Guard Down and then growling throughout We Want Our Planet Back, a strong environmental protest. Along with the opening song To Build A Wall there’s a strong sense that much of Varley’s ire is directed at the goings on in the US and although obviously recorded before this week’s election result listening to them is a reminder that the struggle, despite setbacks, must go on. To Build A Wall joins a long list of songs that allude to the possibility of a new Berlin like wall being built in the USA with Varley delicately reminding the listener of the consequences of such an action. He’s more direct on the Dylan like Something Is Breaking which is like a clarion call from the sixties while When She Wakes, a dark puddle of a song with lyrics which weave urban squalor into a folk like lament has sparks of guitar which recall the likes of Bert Jansch.
Dipping into an almost surreal netherworld on Let Your Guard Down and waxing poetically on the wintry and bucolic February Snow Varley is an excellent exemplar for those who support the argument that lyrics can be literature as realised by Dylan’s recent prize. Varley rails against injustice throughout the album but he does so in a beguiling and ultimately disarming fashion.