To say that Chicago-based singer-songwriter Willis Earl Beal, the first act signed to XL’s new Hot Charity imprint, is a grassroots performer would be an understatement. “I started singing on the streets to amuse myself when I was homeless,” says the 27-year-old visual artist, multi-instrumentalist, and sometimes security guard, who, five years ago, spent a few months drifting around downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico, after losing his job. “I thought, I’m not a musician, but I might have something to lay down—some Jandek-like stream-of-consciousness shit that might go over well with the hipsters in this little town.” He proceeded to write more than a hundred songs, then began leaving CDs and flyers around, telling people to get in touch with him. The outcome is his entrancing debut LP, Acousmatic Sorcery (out March 20), a set of soulful, ruminative, often dissonant blues songs about loneliness and roofless nights—all of which were recorded on a secondhand karaoke machine.
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