On his sixth full-length album, Boston singer-songwriter Will Dailey sounds more than ever like he’s mining forgotten nuggets from AM radio’s mellow, polished golden era in the 1970s. The sole rocker, “Up to Your Heart,” features a hearty sax break reminiscent of Gerry Rafferty’s 1978 smash “Baker Street.” The catchy first single, “Bad Behavior,” glides on a disco groove almost as winning as the one on Boz Scaggs’s 1976 crossover breakthrough “Lowdown.” Much of the rest blends folk, pop, and country into ruminations as lulling as a musical lava lamp.
Of course, depending on one’s age and outlook, this description might seem like a backhanded compliment. Dailey’s soulful voice, commanding guitar, and varied songwriting have been regularly celebrated since his 2004 debut. But if his first entirely new collection in almost four years were just a nostalgic makeover of the Me Decade, it would hardly augur a bright future, especially considering the musician reportedly passed his own 40th birthday in the interim.
Luckily, the closer one listens, the more “Golden Walker” reveals itself a hard-won product of that interim. Partly, it’s about current events. It’s not essential to know that the Women’s March of 2017 inspired “Bad Behavior” — it could be a general celebration of rule-breaking — but that knowledge draws the lyrical threads tight. “He Better Be Alive,” meanwhile, is inescapably about the horror of “Baltimore, Carolina, Staten Island,” even without recognizing the title refrain as the words of Keith Scott’s wife as a North Carolina police officer fatally shot him in 2016.
Mostly, however, the collection is shaped by the personal travails of a middle-aged artist trying to hone the long view. “Today Is Crushing Me” and “Tell a Friend” combat depression to a draw; “When It Dies” faces the Grim Reaper with the hint of a grin; “It Already Would Have Not Worked Out By Now” soars high on a metaphorical tale revealing the inevitable costs of long-term commitment.
That extraordinary number is the best thing on the album’s strong “Side A,” boosted like every track by subtle production touches not even Pink Floyd could have managed in the 1970s. Still, as “Side B” slips into slightly thinner melodies and fuzzier lyrics, the supple sound also defines the album’s limitation — if anything, it’s too clean and contained. After all, AM’s golden era ended just as the first punks and rappers decided the Me Decade’s music desperately needed some bad behavior too.