Birmingham-based singer-songwriter-guitarist, Will Stewart, premieres “Southern Raphael” today on American Songwriter. The meditative track previews his fourth studio release, Way Gone, due Friday via Cornelius Chapel Records.
After many years spent earning his stripes as a songwriter, frontman, and lead guitarist in Nashville, Stewart found his way home to Alabama in March of 2016. It was the muse of the modern South that drew him back in. Raised on rootsy rock and classic country, his influence is haunted by the dark history of his home state and cultural clashes of the South. Its characters and complexities are poignantly detailed in his 2018 County Seat. His raw perspective could only be cultivated only through a native lens.
His latest work takes those themes on the road. Stewart wrote “Southern Raphael” after a particularly long weekend playing shows at a Birmingham venue. “I wanted it to tell a story of those chance encounters you have with transients who make an impact on you, and how strange and beautiful it can be knowing that you’ll never see that person again,” the songwriter explained of his latest track.
Subtle synths create an alluring atmosphere of closing time coquetry. The mystique of meeting a stranger carries weight throughout, landing hard with a potential plot twist. “It’s an unsettling open-ended feeling, and I hope the music captures that,” explained Stewart of the eerie end.
The song fills in thematically with this six-track mini-album, an eccentric collection filled with portraits of desperate souls. The record binds with novella-style storytelling, though Stewart does not consider Way Gone a concept album. Stewart and a crew of frequent collaborators recorded these songs in studios across the Southeast. It took several attempts to bring these songs to life – some of the songs needed more time to develop and grow. Others were lacking the right energy. They tracked what was left back in Birmingham at Ol Elegante with Les Nuby.
“River Child” and “Stowaway” reveal a reverence for folk tradition. “All Over Again” is a nod to the rock that raised him, guitar banging 80s icons like R.E.M and John Cougar Mellencamp. “Night God” outlines an unraveling. It encircles the subject with doom, characterized by incessantly subtle percussion. He closes with the atmospheric “Cruel Sky.”
Listen to “Southern Raphael” from Will Stewart below. Look out for the rest of Way Gone available everywhere Friday.