The Ballad of Willy Robbins is Vikesh Kapoor’s loose concept album about a working class man whose life crumbles and he loses his health, wife, and home. After playing for Howard Zinn’s family at the late historian’s memorial service in Boston, Kapoor was inspired to write the album over the course of two years in Portland. What resulted was a beautiful collection of stories of determination, grit, and the nuances of the human condition.
Kapoor is often compared to the great Americana folk singers like Pete Seegar and Woody Guthrie, but Kapoor tells me that his music isn’t intentionally political. Rather it’s the tradition of telling stories of the working class that Kapoor has revived. He stands out among many artists who live and produce music within a highly digitized world where songs are churned out constantly and consistently and put together by a producer on a computer.
Last Sunday’s (2/16) Schuba’s crowd warmly welcomed Kapoor’s raw pickings of the guitar, the bluesy sound of the harmonica, and Kapoor’s clear, full vocals. It’s true, most of the audience did not know Kapoor before Sunday but once he started singing, the entire room fell silent—and not in the way that implied that the show was boring, rather the audience had every intent to listen and connect with the stories they were told. Here was an actively listening audience—something that can be a rarity for those talented but still unknown musicians embarking on a major tour for the first time.
Just before the show, we sat in the basement of the legendary Chicago venue and reveled in the fact that so many great musicians had sat where we’d been sitting, drinking beer, and warming up to play. We talked about what it’s like to tour alone, Willy Robbins, and of course, vinyl.