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Music Review: Folk singer Willi Carlisle’s album about life in the hills and hollers is a wild ride

This album cover image released by Signature Sounds Recordings shows "Critterland" by Willi Carlisle. (Signature Sounds Recordings via AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Willi Carlisle's folk music focuses on the folks in the shadows of the hills and hollers, or, as he calls it, “Critterland.”

That’s the title of his new album, a compelling follow-up to Carlisle’s 2022 breakout release, “Peculiar, Missouri.” Once again, populist parables are populated with colorful characters navigating the drama and trauma of life among the have-nots in ways that challenge simplistic assumptions about rural identity, bias and suffering.

“They think I’m a queer and a communist,” Carlisle’s protagonist in the title cut laments, his rifle ready for an apocalypse.

The Joplin, Missouri-based Carlisle uses his literary background to craft fluent lyrics that make for a wild ride across harsh land; there’s a reason he references all-terrain tires. Songs about addiction, suicide, daddy issues and a two-headed lamb find beauty and lessons in life and death outside the mainstream.

Producer Darrell Scott helps vary simple arrangements with a deft mix of guitar, banjo, harp, accordion and more. Carlisle’s wise, wry tenor and stories don’t need a lot of instrumental accompaniments. In fact, there’s none on the final cut, “The Money Grows on Trees.” A seven-minute saga of greed, corruption and the outlaw way, it’s the place where folk music and poetry meet.

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AP music reviews: https://apnews.com/hub/music-reviews