Bill Abernathy’s new EP release Who Are You, Who Am I? is a four song collection continuing in the same vein as his past two releases 2017’s Find a Way and its follow-up Crossing Willow Creek. His preceding efforts have experienced considerable commercial success charting on the Roots Music Report Traditional Folk category, winning December 2018’s Billboard Magazine Emerging Artist honors, and other laurels. It isn’t common for a newcomer to garner this level of critical praise. Abernathy backs it up. His focus on the lyrical material never comes at the expense of the song’s music; it is clear Abernathy carefully considers the backing for these songs rather than treating the arrangements as an afterthought.
He draws from a recognizable tradition, without question. The opener “More than Meets the Eye” touches on both rock and roots music without clashing. It opens with a rolling, near-tribal rhythm before shifting into a much more straight-ahead rock stomp near its mid-way point. Some may wish the drums hit a little harder or sounded fatter, but there will be few complaints about the guitar sound. The piercing lead playing placed throughout the cut gives “More Than Meets the Eye” urgency missing from many lesser songs.
Abernathy’s voice reminds me of former songwriter, former Marillion lead vocalist, and now solo performer Derek Dick, a.k.a. Fish. The hard-won and smoky gravitas of his voice simmers with unforced emotion. Attributing this to the edge in life experience he holds over many songwriters/performers points the way, to a certain extent, towards the source of his sound, but much of it is a natural gift. He weaves the words, as well, around the song’s structure with superb effects.
He dispenses with the rock leanings during the song “A Thousand Wild Horses”. It is a thoroughly pastoral number, wreathed in acoustic textures and a gentle melody, and Abernathy’s sensitivity matches it. His talent for transitioning from one style to another, the rock muscle of the opener giving way to a virtual songbird during the second song, is one of his strengths. The cunning humor of “The World’s Foremost Authority on Everything” stands in stark contrast with the lyrics of the first two songs but his intelligence continues shining through.
It has a light country style flavored with a dollop of folk. The “talking vocals” are a break with the first two tracks, as well, and recall the bygone “talking blues” sub-genre once practiced by artists as diverse as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Commander Cody, among many others. The shuffle tempo is spot-on for the song. “Who Are You, Who Am I?”, the EP’s title song, concludes the release. The musical arrangement is considered and thoughtful with numerous understated instrumental touches along the way.
It’s arguably the album’s finest track and Abernathy’s writing shines here. The latest release from this songwriter represents another long step forward for Bill Abernathy’s art and you can hear room to grow in his music. His evolution is far from complete but Who Are You, Who Am I? stakes his claim to writing some of the finest songs today.