Billy Wylder is the songwriting project of Avi Salloway who was a touring member of African Tuareg/desert rock band Bombino for years. Salloway’s social and environmental activism has taken him across Africa, the Middle East, the South Pacific and back to the USA and the Standing Rock Indian reservation. That background has inspired an album that sees Salloway attempting to reconcile the contradiction of a world awash with beauty yet defined by almost incomprehensible social struggle.
The band Billy Wylder, named after Salloway’s grandmother, comprises a wide range of like-minded musicians who have performed on stages across five continents. The music is described as a mix of American folk and rock with Saharan sensibilities and the overall sound of the album verges on experimental at times as earnest lyrics segue into some weird and wonderful musical interludes featuring instruments as diverse as the African Shekere and Calabash.
Perhaps it is this broad brush of musical influences that has produced an album that is hard to define in terms of overall sound. ‘Till Your Well Runs Dry’ has an up-tempo gospel chorus featuring the marvellous harmony vocals of Krista Speroni, one of three female vocalists who feature on the album. On ‘Vital Signs’ it is the turn of Isa Burke to share the vocals on the most commercial and upbeat sounding track on the album. Never leaving aside the fundamental importance of the lyric, this song stands out as a highlight purely because of a rhythm and tempo that isn’t always apparent elsewhere.
The album closes with ‘She’s The Earth’ and ‘Nowhere To Run’, as in “The waters are rising there is nowhere to run.” For an indicator of what the band is all about then this is where to alight. Featuring a gentle vocal, distinctive guitar riff wrapped around a folky low key delivery and some gorgeous violin the former track has, by mid-way through ‘Nowhere to Run’, segued back into something that sounds refreshingly improvised and more akin to some of the experimental feel of earlier tracks.
Salloway asks how can we use music to move beyond capitalism and nationalism to a global society for the benefit of the earth and all living beings? Within the confines of Billy Wylder, he has attempted to make a start by combining necessarily sincere and heartfelt lyrics with musical influences from around the globe. That the overall sound is musically diverse is perhaps fitting in the context of this project.
A musically diverse sound from a band steeped in social consciousness