Photo by Andrew Quist
Just outside of Modesto, CA, there’s a town called Oakdale that’s known as the Cowboy Capital of the World. An Americana act in town, The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit, has gained local and regional following over the years with a lead vocalist named Willy Tea Taylor who also has a solo singer-songwriter gig. Willy is not widely known, but he’s been celebrated by all kinds of great musicians as a brilliant songwriter. He’s got a perfect Buddy Miller outlaw cowboy kind of voice.
Last year, Blackwing – a high end pencil brand that died, disappeared and later remerged – asked Willy to do a benefit record for its Blackwing Foundation supporting arts education in schools. Willy then called his friend and celebrated resonator guitar player Mike Witcher to see if he’d produce the album. Witcher said yes and booked an all-star team to perform on the record, including his brother and Punch Brothers fiddler Gabe Witcher, Noam Pikelny (another Punch Brother), Sara Watkins, Andrew Combs, famed keyboardist Benmont Tench (Tom Petty, Watkins Family Hour) and a slew of others – many of whom Willy had never met.
That album, Knuckleball Prime – a title influenced by Willy’s love for baseball and a sense that the best of his career is yet to come – is brilliantly produced and loaded with accessible and authentic songs that are lyrically moving and instrumentally impressive. This is an album that I just want to listen to over and over again on a long road trip. I can’t even pick my favorites because I like them all.