Joshua James – [Album]

Monday, 24 December 2012

Is it possible for folk music to sound epic? Really, decades of history preclude the possibility of any listener expecting to be hit with an act of fantastic rock grandeur on a folk record but, on his fourth album, From The Top Of Willamette Mountain, singer Joshua James proves that such a record is absolutely possible to find. Not only that, but he can show listeners just how powerful his music can be and win hearts without leaving the “folk” idiom behind.

All of that sounds like no small feat, right? So how'd he do it?

It might sound coy, but Joshua James wins hearts on Willamette Mountain the old fashioned way – with time-honored melodic cliches and compositional choices – but with a bit of new-fashioned help which will titillate listeners. “Mystic” opens the album with all of the principles which dominate the sound of it already firmly in place, but it's still attention-grabbing straight away; here, James captures the sort of true-hearted tone that folk artists like Richard and Linda Thompson, Tom Waits (back at his folky beginnings), Linda Ronstadt and Earth, Wind and Fire were turning into AM Radio Gold, but presents it with the joy of a new discovery in new, young hands. Right away, the singer wins listeners as lines like “There is a mystic in the mountain/ High above the Great Salt Lake/ He's dancing in the heavens, far below his golden gates/ He's looking to our cars below, and laughing at our rock n' roll” touch them gently – the strains are just so soft that listeners will find themselves happily relaxing under their wait. That beginning is a warm and beautiful thing, but listeners will feel every little hair on the backs of their necks stand erect as an enormous bass tone punctuates them. Suddenly that intimate moment is expanded to see a look at the whole world in the blink of an eye. It's a very humbling moment that listeners will find themselves scrambling to get back on top of.

That is how folk music can be epic. The heart in it (when it's done right) can strip a listener bare with its candor and the delicacy of its artifice can fill them up and make them swell; that's what Joshua James does right at the top of Willamette Mountain in “Mystic,” and it will be easy for listeners to recognize it right away. When they do, they'll want desperately to catch up with what's going on, take it into themselves and make it their own.

Listeners will still be scrambling desperately to catch the ambrosia that James so effortlessly drops in songs like “Queen Of The City” and “Surrender.” When it all comes together just right (as it does in those aforementioned tracks, and in “So Did I,” “Willamette Mtn” and “Wolves” too), James' breathless  vocal delivery, his delicate acoustic guitar and thunderous personality resonate with a hypnotic grandeur unparallelled by any of the other “new folk” stylists (Bright Eyes, Mumford & Sons et c.) who have made waves in recent years. While those other “new folkies” have done their part to get some notice to the musical style, Joshua James offers a new and exciting brand apart on From The Top Of Willamette Mountain; here, the singer stands peerless as an artist to watch closely, because he may just have the chutzpah to build a whole new school of thought into folk which is unafraid to be larger than life.



From The Top of Willamette Mountain
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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