Folkadelphia Session: Joshua James (and his miniature dramatic narratives)

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Photo by Jake Buntjer
Photo by Jake Buntjer

As I’m often inundated with new album releases, admittedly a gem of an album slips through the cracks. With luck, though, I discover the music before too much time passes. Such was the case with Joshua James‘ latest record, his 2012 From the Top of Willamette Mountain. Now in 2013, this album has become something of a modern American folk-rock beacon for me and it has allowed me to dig further into James’ rich discography. I’m drawn to his form of songwriting; it’s complex and emotional, but deftly avoids histrionics or put-upon dramatics. The stories he sings seem to exist in the real world, or perhaps just slightly off from reality – in James’ mind. Songs about hard living and hard loving. His backing band perfectly sets the scene for these narratives, emphasizing the theatrics of the tales. A well-placed guitar stab, a cymbal crash, a ghostly backing vocal response – there are many spine-tingling moments with James.

Is it abnormal that when I listen to Joshua James, I think of the famous American desperado Jesse James? Same initials notwithstanding, the pieces fit – the songs seems to live in the same universe with outlaw, ride in the same gang with him even. It gives a brutish, wild character to our James’ music, but our man gives us redemptive moments, for him and for us.

Won’t you listen?

Joshua James and his band entered the XPN Performance Studio on April 6th, 2013 before their show at the Tin Angel.

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