Willis Earl Beal, "Nobody Knows"
Willis Earl Beal, "Nobody Knows" (courtesy)
The second song of Nobody Knows, "Coming Through," offers a sort of statement of purpose: "A lot of people think that the lives they lead are the truth, think that what they believe is the truth, think that what they say is the truth, but I'm your boy Willis Earl Beal and I don't believe that."

Willis Earl Beal is notoriously enigmatic and just plain odd. He says that sort of thing and more in interviews and laid himself out on his major label debut, Acousmatic Sorcery. This is a far cry from that album, which was evidently recorded on a karaoke machine. That record was unapologetically lo-fi and weird, but not in the way a garage rock record does it. Earl Willis Beal's first release was just an outpouring of oddness, sadness and struggle. It was lo-fi because it had to be -- he was homeless.

It's not until the new album's fifth song, "Disintegrating," that things start to feel off-kilter. The high end of a honky-tonk piano plinks out some chords over a staticy bass rumbling and distorted old recordings. "What's The Deal?" is even more unsettling and most certainly darker. Every instrument is emanating a groan or whine under Beal's loose and passionate outpouring.

"Too Dry To Cry" was one of the first tastes of Nobody Knows, and it remains as gripping as it was when it was released. The backing drops out for Beal to slowly state, "I got nine hard inches like a pitchfork prong, so honey lift up your dress, and help me sing this song." That feels like the most powerful moment until you reach "Ain't Got No Love," a gut-punching emotional peak.

Before Beal's statement on truth, though, he presents the real reason anyone listens to his music. It's there in "Wavering Lines," where he's singing mostly a capella, harmonizing with himself only briefly, before a trembling high note creeps in on violin. Beal's vocal chords are like raw, exposed nerve endings channeling a world of pain and lust. It's the voice that does it -- "it" here meaning "everything."