I first came across Willie J Healey in 2015, when John Kennedy featured him on his Xfm show around the time of release of his HD Malibu EP; since then he has released two more EPs, Saturday Night Feeling, also in 2015, and Hey Big Moon, an acoustic EP, last year, and a series of singles including a reworking of ‘Greys’ from HD Malibu. Last week, at long last, he released his debut album: People and Their Dogs. A culmination of over 2 years supporting acts like Beach Baby and Sundara Karma, building experience, style and skill, and picking up many fans along the way.
The album is made up of 6 already released songs; including that raucous new version of ‘Greys’ and another rerecording from his HD Malibu in the excellent ‘Subterraneans’, the album opener; as well as the 2016 singles ‘Would You Be’ and ‘Pipedreams’ which, although released before his acoustic outing, were key in refining his stylish surf-rock; and recent singles ‘Lazy Shade of Pink’, a slick ode to mornings, and the title track, ‘People and Their Dogs’. These songs were not only vital in building Willie’s profile and identity, but they hold the rest of the album together, which threatens to get heavy on ‘Love Her’ and dabbles in his more peaceful side like in ‘All Those Things’, as seen previously on Hey Big Moon.
The new tracks on the album encapsulate what Willie does best: his smooth, laidback lead guitar lines; his easy mix of upbeat, sometimes raspy, and delicate vocals; his steady rhythm section; and his easy-going tales of, I suppose, people and their dogs. There are also unexpected moments of charm with the seamless transition between ‘My Room’ and ‘Somewhere in Between’, and a nostalgic saxophone solo on the latter that ultimately forced me to put my hand in my pocket and buy the vinyl.
The end of the album is a three-part summary of Willie’s style, as the effortlessly cool ‘Sleep All Day’ demonstrates his upbeat carefree personality and lyrics with the line “stupid is as stupid do.” ‘Marie’s Balconey’ develops the calmer, mainly acoustic, almost folk-like, side of his music, I’m sure there must be a reason for the misspelling of ‘balcony’ but I’m unaware of it at the time of writing this*. The album closer ‘We Should Hang’ is a journey through soft, fragile Willie to raspy, heavier Willie, and has more emotional lyrics than a lot of his other songs, with the repeating line “I cry when you look at me”.
People and Their Dogs gives a bit more on each listen and I couldn’t be happier as a fan with Willie J Healey’s first LP. It’s a perfect backdrop to laidback Sunday afternoons and every other day for that matter, the development of the album shows any new listener what Willie is capable of and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
*Pedants like me will be glad to know that since publishing this I’ve noticed that the spelling has been changed on Spotify to ‘Balcony’, so it was just a mistake.By Will Strickson