Cameron Boyd doesn't have a backstory typical of most local musicians. The New Jersey native was a child actor whose primary claim to fame was a recurring role on the HBO drama The Sopranos, in addition to work in commercials, film and even a stint on Broadway. Fortunately, Boyd's story doesn't follow the unseemly trajectory common among child actors-turned musicians like, say, Leif Garrett, Corey Feldman or Lindsay Lohan. Now based in Burlington, Boyd performs under the name Cam Will. His debut full-length record, Winter Left Its Lights On, suggests he's an entirely well-adjusted fellow, if maybe a little melancholy. It also reveals that his time as an actor was beneficial. Will — we'll refer to him by his stage name from here on — proves a deft storyteller with a knack for cinematic arrangements and details that set moody, expansive scenes.
Will's gentle, breathy warble, homespun melodies and self-aware lyricism recall Conor Oberst but without the penchant for distressed melodrama. That's not to say Will suffers a lack of emotional gravitas, merely that he's generally measured and tactful about it. On spare cuts such as "Find the Point," "Nothing on the Trees" and "Open Container," you can almost see Will writing late at night by the light of a bedside lamp against a creeping winter darkness. There's a stark yet comforting quality to his writing, especially in those quieter junctures.
In more expansive moments, Will adds feather-light adornments to his guitar-voice aesthetic that broaden his scope and evoke the desolate beauty of the record's seasonal muse. On opener "Old Skyline," a high-toned guitar arcs above a chugging acoustic progression and drummer Ben Newman's laid-back shuffle like the flicker of northern lights. "Elmwood Cemetery" is a brooding, slow burn that simmers with intensity before succumbing to a whiteout of distorted guitar and rolling drums and washing away. The effect is not unlike something heard from the National, an acknowledged influence, in some of that band's artfully dramatic moments.
Winter Left Its Lights On is not without some minor flaws. At times, Will is guilty of over-exposition in his writing. And he'll occasionally indulge in some clunky phrasing. But any of those trifles are more than offset by the album's many fine and often beautifully understated moments. For example, the hook on "Chlorine." Here, Will ends a pleading phrase with the line, "I'm just a boy in your arms," and then lets those words and the gorgeous wisp of a melodic turn they're carried on drift away in an airy ripple of guitar and organ. Sublime.
Cam Will plays oak45 in Winooski this Saturday, May 3, as part of the Waking Windows 4 music festival. Winter Left Its Lights On is available at camwill.bandcamp.com.