The self-titled debut album from Willie and the Giant is a double shot of vintage rock and soul, tastefully wrapped and carried like a party gift into the now. Open it up and you'll find a few key ingredients missing from a lot of today's music—for starters, space, warmth and plenty of dynamic range. This one begs to be played on vinyl through a hot tube receiver and some big, boxy hi-fi speakers.
Which makes sense. The retro-minded Nashville band cut these new songs at all-analog studio Welcome to 1979, where an impressive list of legends and contemporaries have recorded before them—Todd Snider and Dave Schools' Hard Working Americans, The North Mississippi All-Stars, Those Darlins, Jason Isbell, even Animals frontman Eric Burdon.
"We wanted that warm, saturated sound that you can only get from tape," frontman Will Stewart says, "and Welcome to 1979 specializes in just that. It was cozy, too. Everything there is intentionally stylized to take you four decades back in time."
"It definitely felt like a special place," adds six-foot-five lead guitarist Jon Poor (aka The Giant). "From the minute we walked in, we were instantly at ease."
This positive feel carried over to the sessions, which found the Nashville group's Alabama roots on prominent display. Both Stewart and Poor were veterans of the Birmingham scene before relocating to Nashville, striking up a friendship and starting Willie and the Giant. For their self-titled debut LP (out April 21 on Cumberland Brothers Music), the band's two singer-guitarists, plus bassist Grant Prettyman and drummer Mac Kramer were joined in the studio by friend and 'Bama staple Matt Slocum—who tours with Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson—on keys.
Everything was recorded live together in the same room—Slocum's sparkling hammond organ, Prettyman's in-the-pocket grooves, Kramer's ebullient, driving beats, Poor's soulful Stratocaster licks and Stewart's silky and expressive lead vocals.
"When we play, we really feed off of each other," Poor says. "So this approach was perfect to capture our sound and really bring that human element to it. Most of our all-time favorite records—if you go back and research them—were done live, and we wanted to emulate that."
The spontaneous results offer up plenty of eclectic magic— sweltering swamp grooves, dark and lonesome spaghetti-Western tunes offset by feel-good soul-pop ditties, gorgeous dueling guitar melodies, fist-pumping no-frills American rock & roll, glammy ‘70s raveups, fiery Southern anthems and stadium-ready psychedelic blues epics.
"This record is a culmination of the band writing and arranging together for the last year,” Stewart says. “It's a blend of our personal playing styles and influences, which continue to change and evolve as we learn each other’s tendencies. The songs are diverse, stylistically, but still find cohesion through the production and the way they were recorded. We wanted the sound to be uniquely our own without being overly referential and I think we achieved that."