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Daphne Willis

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In the little more than three years since she grabbed her acoustic guitar and took the stage for the first time, Chicago-based singer/songwriter Daphne Willis has grown from a feisty neophyte into a self-assured, marvelously expressive artist with a bracingly seductive sound. The 22-year-old’s Vanguard debut album, What to Say documents Willis’ voyage of self-discovery, while also standing as a captivating introduction to a remarkably fresh voice with a distinctive point of view—one that both reflects and scrutinizes the social patterns of her generation.

The album interweaves relationship songs (“Bluff,” “Love and Hate”), interior dialogues (“Still Tryin’,” “Pulled Tight”) and pieces inspired by the need for catharsis—her own and, by extension, that of her listeners (“Not Always Easy,” “Swirl”). These dozen songs also reveal a young woman in firm possession of a supple, hyper-melodic style, writing with a sophistication that belies her age. Because of the silky, disarming ease of her songs, Willis has been described as a female Jack Johnson, but below the surface this introspective yet life-embracing young artist brings a cutting-edge liveliness to the confessional singer/songwriter tradition that recalls the music of Rickie Lee Jones at the same age. Like Jones three decades earlier, Willis is turning the conventional notion of the young woman with an acoustic guitar on its ear.
Willis began recording the tracks that would grow into What to Say on her own, with the help of Chicago-based engineer Stephen Shirk, planning to release it herself.

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