Ramshackle and frequently uncertain, singer/songwriter Dan Willson casts out his doubts and insecurities over a creaky foundation of acoustic guitar, banjo, and accordion on 2011's Good News, his debut LP under the name Withered Hand. Raised in Scotland as a Jehovah's Witness, a lifetime of missed birthdays, holidays, and life's other celebrations loom wistfully behind his confessional folk-pop songs, which he delivers in a high, plaintive tenor that cracks and wobbles affectionately as it reaches upward. From the amateur strumming, semi-lo-fi production, and good-natured melancholia, it would be easy to dismiss Withered Hand as another twee folkie hopeful, but there is more to him than that. A veteran of various unknown Edinburgh indie bands, Willson didn't even begin playing guitar until he was 30, when one was given to him as a gift. The songs that came pouring out of him have a raw immediacy that belies their sweet melodies. Echoes of his Glaswegian neighbors Belle and Sebastian and Teenage Fanclub show in his knack for memorable hooks and song structures in spite of his somewhat limited range as a performer. Standouts like the beautiful "Love in the Time of Ecstasy" and the waltzing "Religious Songs" strike a nice balance between heartfelt spontaneity and austere pop richness. Similarly, the anthemic "Hard On" builds from a tender acoustic thumper to something straight from the gut. Behind it all is the pathos of an endearing and capable songsmith coming to terms with his religion, his past, his age, his friends, and inevitably his future.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger