W.C. Beck describes himself as “an itinerant singer/songwriter from Kansas”. After some years in Portland, he is now based in New York. Having recorded as Chris Beck in the past, ‘First Flight’ is his ninth album, largely written in Paris while studying there. On the album’s Kickstarter page he tells us that the title came from reading a biography of the Wright Brothers and is “a tribute to believing in yourself and pursuing a vision only you can see.”
The album starts from firmly Americana roots but his time touring with The Dandy Warhols and The Decemberists has rubbed off on some songs, and with his co-producers’ (Myles Turney and Joel Arnow) background working with Philip Glass, Boy George, and Loudon Wainwright III there were always going to be some other influences creeping in. Opener ‘Steel Bird’ has a Jayhawks feel to it, and benefits from Paul Orbell’s great slide guitar work, as does ‘Powder Blue’.
The lyrics reflect Beck’s time away from home, first single ‘The Long Way Home’ has a video (posted on AUK a few weeks ago), showing him on Grand Central Station and Coney Island Boardwalk and is one of the highlights of the album. While hardly a concept album the songs are linked by themes of travel and moving on, from places and people. ‘Unknown Bust’ starts in a museum, ‘Grey’ is a story of letting go, and all through the album lyrical sophistication gives a thoughtfulness to the songs that is unusual in the age of the social media soundbite. Another high point is ‘Colosseum’, which has a Tom Petty feel to it. Elsewhere Hammond organ, electric piano, and bells add to the mix. The Mariachi-style horns on ‘(Holding on) To a Coast’, punctuate the track with little bursts of sunshine. And this is the strength of the album, the new aspects that pop up with repeated listens sounding familiar and new at the same time. The comparisons and influences don’t overwhelm the album, Beck is too experienced for that and his rich warm voice, a sometimes-surprising sound palette, and sound songwriting make this an album that is an ideal travelling companion.