Willi Carlisle sees singing as a form of healing. He believes that through communal singing, we can confront the unavoidable challenges of human suffering while cultivating a sense of love. On Critterland, he invites us to sing along.
Produced by the acclaimed singer-songwriter and musician Darrell Scott, Critterland picks up where Willi Carlisle's previous work, Peculiar, Missouri, left off. The new album is a wild journey through the backwaters of both Carlisle's mind and the American experience. It transforms the big tent of Peculiar into a Critterland menagerie, releasing a cast of weirdos into the musical wilderness.
Throughout the album, Carlisle grapples with the inevitability of human suffering, exploring forbidden love, loss, generational trauma, addiction, and suicide. By delving into the traits and trauma we inherit, he seeks a profound understanding of the human condition. His belief is that collective expression, particularly through singing, can lead to a national reckoning with the diverse forms of suffering that shape our world.
Said Carlisle, “If we allow ourselves to sing together, there's a release of sadness, maybe even a communal one. And so for me personally, singing, like the literal act of thinking through suffering, is really freeing,”
However, Critterland is no Saturday-night hootenanny, it's more of a Sunday morning crier, as Carlisle indicated. The album explores the conflict between love and the harsh realities of life, digging into themes of doomed love, the beauty of simple pleasures, and the shackles of societal expectations.
On tracks like "The Arrangements," Carlisle reflects on inherited traits from an imperfect father, while "Dry County Dust" revels in the joys of country life while considering the burdens of expectation. "The Great Depression" draws parallels to our current era, and on "The Money Grows on Trees," Carlisle crafts a seven-minute indictment of capitalism and greed.
One particular treat on on Critterland is "Two Headed Lamb," where Carlisle meditates on a poem by Laura Gilpin, weaving a poignant narrative about the beauty that exists in moments of abundance, even in the face of inevitable doom. The song becomes a reflection on what the world allows to thrive and how we perceive the unconventional.
Navigating the delicate balance between addressing addiction and avoiding glorification, "When the Pills Wear Off" explores the intersection of queer love and drug addiction with haunting nuance. He acknowledges the darker aspects of life, urging listeners to shine a light on their worst impulses to guide themselves into a space of greater love with certainty.
As Carlisle grapples with life's complexities, he poses a vital question in a world marked by divisive politics: "How do we save love from hate?" On Critterland he invites listeners to sing along and embark on a journey that transcends musical boundaries, offering a poignant exploration of the human experience through the lens of Willi Carlisle's unique storytelling.