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William William Rodgers
Sings the Yellow Pages Tom Bolton , May 31st, 2022 08:47

William William Rodgers finds a source of fantasy in deep England, finds Tom Bolton

With its geeky cover photo and self-deprecating title, William William Rodgers’ first album suggests a naïvety which vanishes as soon as the vocals kick in. Rodgers, a singer and songwriter performing in an apparently gentle, English cabaret style, has a strong, open baritone voice that projects darkness from beneath a blanket of humour and irony. Backed by a sharp band playing such instruments as accordion, autoharp, viola and acoustic guitar, he taps the listener on the shoulder and escorts them politely into a world of seaside towns, shrimping trips, rural stations, broken friendships, murder and regret.

‘Are We Still On’ mixes lost summer days nostalgia with sweaty, morning after regret. With complete but understated confidence, Rodgers undercuts the sweetly melodic ‘Are We Still On’, suggesting his faithless partner has the police “looking for a boy who just about fits your description”. Musically, there is a hint of Jim Parker’s settings of John Betjeman poems on the 1970s albums Banana Blush and Late Flowering Love, but Rodgers’ writing has a self-awareness and an appreciation of the banal that eluded Sir John. His way with words is a gift, and the album is full of turns of phrase that demand to be heard again, immediately.

On ‘Mermaid Tattoo’ it is “scarf weather again … in the arsehole of the year’. On possible murder ballad ‘77 Walking Sticks’, Rodgers’ “carrier bag was clinking” as “rain poured in from the pier”. It is a rainy day too on ‘Sigh’, when “we pooled our savings / checked into a small hotel”. ‘If I Die Before You’ issues jaunty, gut-wrenching instructions to a partner: “playing cards and baubles, coins and rings and keys / give them all to charity” – “you are all that is left of me.” He also covers ‘Slow Train’, Flanders and Swann’s lament for the Beeching rail closures of the 1960s. It is hard to imagine anyone else contemplating a cover of this song, with its odd combination of love for the everyday, and for a deep Tory village England, but Rodgers gets away with it. He makes it both charming and funny, a song about a fantasy world.

Rodgers, from Birmingham, is a clever and distinctive writer. His style fits no current template and he sounds like no-one other than himself. His songs grow with listening, their airy, apparently effortless style underpinned with a strong understanding of bleak realities. There is an element of an English Bill Callahan about his music: acutely aware, deeply felt songs, but written with a sense of humour. His first album is a minor triumph, and many people who hear it will be devotees for life.