Let's get one thing clear right now: Willis Earl Beal has got a fantastic voice. Pick any cut on Nocturne, out Friday via Tender Loving Empire, and you'll see what I mean. From the emotional "Lust" to the yearning "Able to Wait", Beal mesmerizes with his voice. It is as an impressive instrument as the axe that any guitar whiz wields.
That said, the album is nearly too holistic, for lack of a better word. For all the considerable strengths of Nocturnes as a record, it remains something that's easier to appreciate than love. I can imagine reaching for this one when I'm in the car alone at night and a long highway beckons. That's the risk of making what others might call "mood music" and Nocturnes is nothing if not superb mood music. There are moments here -- Beal's ultimately very real growl on "Survive", for example -- that work beautifully and I feel churlish for nitpicking what others would not be able to do so well.
Willis Earl Beal possesses one of the best voices in music today. I feel safe in saying that. If I have any criticisms, and they are minor ones, they are more about Nocturnes as a record. I just would have wanted, as a new fan of the guy, to hear more variety in what was being presented.
Still, I can't fault what's here and Nocturnes by Willis Earl Beal is affecting and expertly produced music of the sort that labels like Mute and 4AD would have put out in earlier eras had they had on hand a guy with a voice like this.