by Robert Bell
JOHN WILLIS EP RELEASE SHOW
9:30 p.m. The Joint. $7.
If you've been following original local music the last few years, the odds are good that Little Rock native John Willis' name will be a familiar one. The UCA graduate is an arranger and an ace piano player who has accompanied many of the state's finest singer/songwriters.
And it turns out that Willis is a fine singer/songwriter himself, as evidenced by the sophisticated, lush-sounding pop contained on his six-song EP, "King of the Cocktail Party," which will be available at this show. Willis's Facebook bio states that he grew up "listening to equal parts MoTown, 60's-70's singer/songwriters, and Gospel," as well as classical, jazz and world music.
All those influences certainly shine through on his new EP, especially on the title track, with its range of sounds: a gentle Brazilian lilt here, a jaunty chorus of background singers, what sounds like a harmonium in the distance, and wry observations throughout. Opener "The Ladder" is a bouncy, piano-led number with rich, gorgeous vocal harmonies and an ending that recalls Harry Nilsson in his prime.
Also on the bill: Sammy Williams, of Midwest Caravan, and headliner Isaac Alexander, performing with a full band.