If, like this correspondent, you ever reach the point where you feel country music dances too much to the beat of marketing formula then have a listen to Charlottesville, VA singer/songwriter Will Overman’s debut album, ‘The Winemaker’s Daughter’. The purity of his voice and lucidity of his lyrics immediately bring to mind James Taylor and Jason Isbell. Above all, Overman’s blend of country with pop, folk and rock is something different and deeply rewarding.
Overman describes his debut as a ‘concept album’. Though a term that can conjure prog-rock pomposity on a grand scale in this case the concept is rather more simple. He charts his life on leaving college, trying to make it as a professional touring musician, while his parents divorce, he gets married and his wife falls ill. The songs are reflections, there’s no self pity and through their hardships Will and Janey find pleasure in the smaller things in life.
Matching the emotion of these peaks and troughs Overman sticks to a very stripped back sound. But he does dip back to the days of his Will Overman Band to add powerful layers of instrumentation to his message.
The album’s story begins with ‘Bad Apartment’ a classic blend of acoustic country, pop and folk. Vocally the similarity to James Taylor is uncanny. Overman sings about the downsides to living in “An apartment on a backstreet in a small town” but none outweighs the the loving nostalgia he feels for those carefree days.
If that set the scene the title track introduces the leading character, his wife. To a more folky vibe Overman’s cup brims with love and optimism, the latter even extending to his future father-in-law. “Your father’s not a fan of mine/ But all good things they take some time/ I will treat you as he treats his wine”. The bluegrass tones reveal his Appalachian home and the poignancy of the lyrics summons up John Prine.
But life as a musician is hard. ‘Living Wage’ shows Overman’s introspection fits as convincingly to pain as it did whimsical humour. This sorrow deepens substantially on ‘Marine’ as his wife’s falls very ill. Overman combines his fear with Janey’s determination both vocally and lyrically. “There ain’t no “Cancer for Dummies”/ Life ain’t a plot from Nancy Drew/ There’s no right way to deal with the wrong/ To get past you gotta go right through”.
On ‘Elwood’ Overman conveys his anguish for a musician long past his prime who, unable to go on any longer, takes his own life. With more than a hint of foreboding in the opening keys Overman rages at the hopelessness this poor man must feel.
Like shafts of sunlight amid all this heartache ‘Little Things’ delves into the simpler aspects of life. From taking his wife coffee in bed to a beer on the porch in the evening, home and dog are all a far cry from “the guy who likes to live alone/ on the road, at the bar, just a rolling stone”.
That rolling stone does show up in ‘Traveler’s Promise’, a carefree itinerary of romantic pursuit as Will and Janey roam around Europe before he proposed in Ireland. As they sample the delights of each stop all that really counts is their affection for each other. The song is stripped back to the bone so just underlines that tenderness even further.
Overman’s love for his wife permeates the entire album but ‘Something to Hold’ just overflows with adoration. A relaxed electric guitar line grooves along as his falsetto seeks the apex of his emotions. The risk is that he goes over the top but he doesn’t. Overman is too genuine for that. ‘The Winemaker’s Daughter’ is a beautifully crafted album of expression. Janey is the winemaker’s daughter and Will has blended a grand cru.