If there’s one way to defy expectations, it’s to see why there’s buzz around a new young country singer who mostly found his following through TikTok … and then find out that he’s a traditionally minded singer-songwriter who actually showcases a ton of potential.
Granted, “potential” is the key word when cycling through William Beckmann’s discography. Think of him as a more reserved Orville Peck in his more noticeably old-school timbre and delivery, albeit with a tempered gravitas and greater sense of maturity. He broke out last year through his song “Bourbon Whiskey” and just recently released a new project, but he actually released a debut album in 2018 that I’d describe as … oddly patchy. Certainly enjoyable and solid – especially with a production credit from Radney Foster, of all people – but lacking in more unique character in the writing and sound to stick out a bit more, not to mention that Beckmann hadn’t quite come into his own as a vocalist.
With Faded Memories, there’s a greater sense of refinement in the song structures and especially the delivery, but there’s still that odd sense of anonymity in the material itself to really push the album over the line. The immediate positive really is Beckmann himself, though. Most of these songs tread between reflections of love gained and loved lost, and they’re all so fairly straightforward and plainspoken in their delivery that the old-school charm works heavily in their favor.
And for the most part, Beckmann stays well within his comfort zone for the better. He’s much more effective at tempered reflections of loss on tracks like “Bourbon Whiskey” and “In the Dark” than he is on the oddly out-of-place “Follow,” which is the one track here to feel like a leftover from that debut and a clear single choice if someone on his team ever decides to push him toward mainstream radio airplay. And while that track has been noted as the dud outlier thus far, Beckmann’s more refined delivery does help it go down reasonably well, even if it’s not particularly memorable; it’s certainly not bad. Honestly, I found the forced rhyme of the hook on “New Woman” more egregious, a track where Beckmann gloats to an old lover that he’s found someone new and has clearly moved on … only, by placing the emphasis more on this old flame than his new partner, it just reads as oddly hollow and petty.
But I also think it’s a track like “Follow” that reflects the general lack of direction with Beckmann’s sound, because while it opens with the very old-school traditional country of “Bourbon Whiskey” and then bleeds into the Spanish-flavored “Danced All Night Long,” the album basically defaults to midtempo acoustic numbers that are solid but feel lacking in greater punch or more unique dynamics to better showcase Beckmann’s talent, even if the firm acoustics brushing against the pedal steel over the remembrance of “In the Dark” probably makes for the best moment here. I mean, it’s telling that, with the dark, burnished groove adding a ton of potent urgency to it, the “I’m on Fire” cover feels like one of the most well-realized tracks here as a whole; it’s been done many times before, but it’s a genuinely excellent cover.
And there’s also the added note that, in 2022, retro-leaning acts seem more common than artists living in the here and now, which isn’t a mark against what Beckmann does here so much as show what else could be done to make his take on it a bit more unique. Again, this is a short listen with a ton of potential moving forward, and though the song topics don’t vary much, they all are surprisingly more mature than what his years would suggest. All in all, then, definitely a good listen – I’m looking forward to more.
- Favorite tracks: “Bourbon Whiskey,” “Danced All Night Long,” “30 Miles,” “In the Dark,” “I’m On Fire”
- Least favorite track: “New Woman”