Here in our Internet age the first question you ask when you hear someone new with a couple of songs this good is, does everyone know about this person already?
I personally found out about William Prince from a mention in an NPR article about an Americana festival. He’s a folk-country singer from Canada who’s won some music awards up there, so not exactly obscure but he didn’t show up on my radar until about a week ago and I’ve been playing these two songs obsessively. So I guess even if I am late to the party I’ll jump right in.
“Breathless” is the stunner, quiet start with strummy guitar and piano accents and an expression of exhaustion, ennui–every road’s been followed, every mistake’s been made–but then a recovery, there’s still a lot to be desired, a lot to remember, the more I seek the more I find I had it all along, we’re off to see the wizard but just before you roll your eyes at the cliche and move on the killer chorus shows up:
I never heard a song sung quite like Elvis
Not much beats the sound of the pouring rain
There’s something in your kiss leaves me so helpless
You leave me breathless…
Swelling music, lots of background vocal, just a gorgeous production by the ubiquitous Dave Cobb (there have to multiple people with the same name producing all these albums!) You suffer through a strained second verse because you want so bad to hear that chorus again, to make sure it’s as good as you thought it was, and it is, and then you’re hooked, like a great mid-60’s pop song. William sings that he can never see the sun rise too many times. I can’t hear songs like this too many times.
(A quick Spotify search tells us that many rock’n’roll people have been left breathless over the years, but I’ll add a shout out to my favorite, Jerry Lee, who of course makes the feeling not an elegy but a come-on. Especially love the moments about 3/4 of the way through when he gets so caught up in marveling at the depth of his emotions for a few seconds he seems to forget the object of them. Ahhhh-breathless.)
“The Carny” is more modest but has better lyrics, a simple story about a best friend who goes off to work for the circus and turns out to be better at it than the singer imagined he could be:
So by the end of it
The tilt a whirled and the zipper zipped
And he had both hands in it
From sunup until they tore down
The singer feels a mix of pride and jealousy, the way you tend to at a friend’s success, especially an unexpected success. The chorus on this one includes the lines:
Most these folks ain’t like most these folks
Keep in mind that some folks lie…
…which are just enough to the left of coherent that I wonder if William should have gone back for a rewrite. But in Creative Writing class we were encouraged to act as though every decision in a story was intentional so I’ll give it a try. The people who work at circuses are just like our idea of what people who work at circuses would be like. But they are at the same time regular people like the singer’s friend, acting out their idea of what people who work at circuses should be like.
The song ends on an image of happy families enjoying their night out at the fair. The singer admits it would be nice if we all could be out there there among them but then who’d run the rides? And suddenly, sneakily, we’re in the head of every artist looking out over his or her audience. Great stuff, however early or late you happen to find out about it!