It seems rather apt that – after walking 500 miles to tour his music in 2014 – Will Varley should end up supporting The Proclaimers on tour in 2015, and again in 2016. No word yet on whether Varley will walk 500 more now that he has released his fourth record, Kingsdown Sundown – named for a small village near where he recorded the album underneath a local pub in the town of Deal, Kent.
It is testament to Varley’s skill as a songwriter that Kingsdown Sundown appears immensely uncomplicated – comprised almost exclusively of acoustic-guitar and his vocals – yet never feels merely simple or basic. Kingsdown Sundown is a sombre record, with Varley engaging in personal reflection and political exposition in equal measure, and while it lacks some of the wry, quirky, turns of phrase that made 2015’s Postcards From Ursa Minor a critical success, he still displays a peculiar way of looking at the world, as when he observes that “there’s 24,000 miles between someone’s back and someone’s smile” on opening track, To Build A Wall.
As Varley opines “let’s make this planet great again” on We Want Our Planet Back – a track densely packed with references – it is easy to think that To Build A Wall is a swipe at President-elect Trump’s election promise to build a border wall with Mexico. And it probably is, but it is not just that as Varley considers the various ways in which societies construct barriers – both physical and abstract – to keep the ‘other’ out. It is a timely, and timeless, message that makes good use of the intimate atmosphere that folk music can create.
Touching on environmentalism, corrupt politicians, media bias, and refugees – among myriad other issues – the electric-guitar augmented We Want Our Planet Back is the album’s most powerful track, yet also feature the album’s most trite lyrics at the chorus. Luckily, the song’s brevity helps mask this flaw. Too Late Too Soon, at nearly seven and a half minutes, could have ended up feeling excessively long, but Varley’s direct yet sensitive vocal style, coupled with the introspective lyrics, keep the listener interested for the duration.
The eleven songs of Kingsdown Sundown could easily have blurred into one another, becoming an undifferentiated mass of acoustic-guitar and vocals. But by subtle shifts in tone between tracks and the judicious use of musical augmentation – such as the strings on February Snow and Wild Bird, the drums and second guitar on Let Your Guard Down, and the gentle cymbal crashes of Something Is Breaking – Varley prevents monotony setting in and has produced a beautiful, nearly ineffable, folk record.