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NPR Music

Willi Carlisle, 'Vanlife'

Humor needs truth like an outlet needs positive and negative polarity; the circuit is incomplete without one or the other, and jokes never land without their counterpart. Willi Carlisle speaks his truth, of falling down the economic ladder, to set up space for punch lines galore in the honky-tonk romp "Vanlife," produced by Joel Savoy in rural Louisiana.

Lyrically, Carlisle bounces between the poles of socioeconomic commentary – reminiscent of folk singers like Woody Guthrie in lyrics like "Sittin' sad and wonderin' why / Meritocracy's a lie" – and the twisted humor of Shel Silverstein, with wry ringers: "All the girls from Chickamauga to Passamaquoddy / Speak enviously of my van's rusted body." He adds a hefty measure of physical comedy in the song's video, where his 6'-4" 300-pound frame slips, slides and stumbles from scene to scene, bringing the song's message of absurdity and pain front and center.

The truth of his own experience gives this irreverent country sing-along its root: Carlisle lived his own version of it not too long ago, when he was an aspiring poet who took up the guitar and began busking on street corners and sleeping under overpasses. "Vanlife" is from Willi Carlisle's album Peculiar, Missouri which arrives July 15 on Free Dirt Records.

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