Inspiration is often spoken of in terms of altitude, but for some, like Withered Hand’s Dan Willson, a little help is needed to even find the foot of the mountain to climb. Painfully shy and anxious through childhood that his voice was too high, Willson didn’t start singing until his late twenties. By then, he was married and living in Edinburgh, Scotland, a listless visual artist and rock tinkerer who was afraid of microphones. He faced down this fear as the lead shouter in a shortlived artrock outfit with his best friend, acquiring a reputation for his way with words. Then, when his children were born, like many new parents, he took time out, worked hard and seriously considered selling his electric guitars and concentrating on art as a future creative outlet. Rather than let this happen, his wife and friends chipped in and bought him an acoustic guitar for his 30th birthday, a gesture that inadvertently led to a huge change in his writing approach. Willson says, “It’s a very quiet guitar, not quite full size, very light tone, so I can sing over it without shouting too much. I started writing these very simple quiet songs concerned with communicating truths. Songs I could play at home without waking the children." The nascent Withered Hand gently slipped into existence.
Just as Willson was finding his footing as a songwriter, he lost a close friend, Paul. “He was an artist, a real dreamer. We had kids at almost the exact same time so we spent a lot of time together, considering our new roles in life and the possible endgame for certain feelings and ambitions. He was always telling me I could do things, and I always doubted and argued against him why I couldn’t do stuff, especially with my music. I was a put-it-all-off-until-tomorrow guy before he died." The first ever Withered Hand gig was on the exact day Paul died, a tragic fact Willson wouldn’t learn until after the show. “I was thinking how much I wanted him to see me standing there singing in this wobbly little voice because he had told me just weeks before I should just fucking do it." That was the catalyst for him to delve seriously into Withered Hand and the significance of these simultaneous events just ignited Dan. This was in August 2006.
Shortly thereafter, Withered Hand recorded and released the first of several lo-fi EP’s. These early releases showed Willson’s lyricism and tremendous command over fragile melodies and earned attention from cult American producer Kramer (Galaxie 500 / Low / Daniel Johnston), who first contacted Willson several years ago and offered to record his debut album. The Scottish Arts Council, who had previously funded the debuts of Belle and Sebastian and Snow Patrol, eagerly funded his debut.
The title of his debut album Good News is in reference to Willson’s evangelical Christian upbringing and, accordingly, a theme of spiritual confliction runs through many of these songs. While two tracks are covers (‘Joy’ - originally by drummer Alun’s previous band, Desc, and ‘Hard-on’ by Philadelphian anti-folk songwriter Charles Latham), it is Willson’s own lyrics, all delivered in his endearingly throaty tenor, that truly convey his charmingly self-deprecating wit (‘I Am Nothing’), his wry yet cynical romanticism (‘New Dawn’) and his incredible way with a rhyme (‘arrondissement’ with ‘idiot savant,’ ‘ten commandments’ with ‘undergarments’). He manages to successfully toe the line between the sadness and hope, juxtaposing crass lyrics over enthralling melodies, exposing the strange beauty in things gone wrong and the heart behind every failure. Hell, we can overwrite this bio as much as we want, but we’d rather attach the lyric sheet because, frankly, you just can’t go wrong quoting from these songs.
The album was released in the UK in late 2009 and without any coordinated publicity or promotional effort, Withered Hand has been gathering critical acclaim from all corners via word of mouth. To wit, MOJO magazine’s four star review of the album came out eight months (!) after its release. Regular BBC airplay from the likes of Gideon Coe, Marc Riley, Tom Robinson, Vic Galloway and Rob Da Bank has led to live sessions being recorded for BBC Radio Scotland and BBC 6Music. Withered Hand has garnered some rather public endorsements from the likes of Jarvis Cocker, The Dodos and Frightened Rabbit (whose singer Scott Hutchison is planning to take the band as his primary support on a solo tour of the U.S. with him). All of this attention has led to festivals invitations, a successful European tour and regular sold out shows in London and Scotland alike. Absolutely Kosher is proud to present this landmark record for the Western Hemisphere.
‘This is the golden age.’ – No Cigarettes