Music Reviews
11:34 am
Tue March 25, 2014

A Tuneful Conversation With A Sometimes-Distant God

Originally published on Tue March 25, 2014 3:28 pm

The wry and tuneful Withered Hand is Dan Willson, a graphic artist from Edinburgh who drifted away from the Jehovah's Witnesses as a teenager — but not, you get the feeling, with a satisfied mind. His moniker is a scriptural reference, and he named his 2009 debut Good News, one way Christians refer to the New Testament. (More to the point, its key track is called "Religious Songs.")

Willson's new follow-up album reverses Good News into the title New Gods. It's another collection of fetching, wavery, spiritually dislocated songs. Without quite getting worked up about it, Willson thinks a lot about mortality, sin and what a loser he is. In the lead track, "Horseshoe," he worries about a friend's chest X-ray, conceivably his wife's: "Here I stand, hand in hand with the nameless one / He says he's listening to me; please don't put a shadow on her lung."

Withered Hand is one of those out-of-nowhere anomalies indie-rock throws up every once in a while. Willson's strained, sweet croon revisits Neil Young in weirdo mode, and his heart is pure without having been sterilized. Married with two kids and a wife who works, he's so droll and compassionate in his self-involvement — and such a melodic kind of guy — that I find both of his albums endlessly listenable. May he enjoy record sales in the tens of thousands. May his faith in music vanquish his doubts about himself and his spiritual fate.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There's a Scottish singer-songwriter who goes by the name Withered Hand. He sings about tried-and-true topics: love, death, spiritual questioning. Despite that, Withered Hand's second album, "New Gods," has won over our music critic. Here's Robert Christgau.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBERT CHRISTGAU, BYLINE: The wry and tuneful Withered Hand is Dan Willson, a sometime graphic artist from Edinburgh who drifted away from the Jehovah's Witnesses as a teenager - but not, you get the feeling, with a satisfied mind. Here's a song from his 2009 album "Good News," a title that I should note is one way Christians refer to the New Testament. I should also note that the term Withered Hand is a scriptural reference. The song itself is called "Religious Songs."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RELIGIOUS SONGS")

WITHERED HAND: (Singing) ...his congregation, religious songs, I'm getting the words wrong, my hair's getting too long. And they're saying how does he really expect to be happy when he listens to death metal bands?

CHRISTGAU: Withered Hand's new album reverses the title "Good News" into the title "New Gods." It's another collection of fetching, wavery, spiritually dislocated songs. Without quite getting worked up about it, Willson thinks a lot about mortality, sin and what a loser he is. On the lead song, "Horseshoe," he worries about a friend's chest X-ray.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HORSESHOE")

HAND: (Singing) Please don't put a shadow on her lung so young. Please don't put a shadow on her lung. We could kill our friends. We could sing a song that never ends again. Tell me, was it easy to pretend like nobody is dead and nobody you love will ever die.

CHRISTGAU: Withered Hand is one of those highly unlikely anomalies indie-rock throws out there every once in a while. His strained, sweet croon revisits Neil Young in weirdo mode, and his heart is pure without having been sterilized. On "Love Over Desire," he probably commits an adultery he definitely regrets if he did.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE OVER DESIRE")

CHRISTGAU: Married with two kids and a wife who works, Withered Hand is so droll and compassionate in his self-involvement - and such a melodic kind of guy - that I find both his albums endlessly listenable. May he enjoy record sales in the tens of thousands. May his faith in music vanquish his doubts about himself and his spiritual fate.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BETWEEN TRUE LOVE AND RUIN")

HAND: (Singing) Don't let your love go unspoken again, don't you know you had a friend.

CORNISH: The new album from Withered Hand is called "New Gods." Our reviewer is Robert Christgau.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BETWEEN TRUE LOVE AND RUIN")

HAND: (Singing) Don't you know you had a friend. Don't let your love go unspoken again. Don't you know you had a friend.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.