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Initial Thoughts Album Review #6
Build Me This
Release Date: September 8, 2009 on iTunes,
September 22, 2009 everywhere else
Joshua James’ new LP, Build Me This, will appear in my monthly “Best Albums of 2009” post, but I just couldn’t wait till the end of the month to spread the good word about James’ new release.His debut album, Sun is Always Brighter, released in 2008, was a promising first effort. Earnest vocals, at times breathy and raspy, but laden with real sincerity. I know, I know – that sounds really cliche and cheesy! However, it is fitting. James’ lyrics comes across as deeply intimate without smacking of “emo” (whatever that means) wear-you-heart-on-your sleeve voyeuristic whining. This was refreshing.
Since then, James has released a the Sing Songs EP as well as a digital only single and b-side, Crash this Train / The Garden. These 2 releases pointed towards two very potential futures for James upcoming LP. Sing Songs was a quite EP with largely stripped down arrangements. The one outlier was “Farmer from the West,” which had a more robust sound and, more significantly, a simmering anger that lied just below the surface. Crash this Train was a political piece that featured new additions to James’ sonic palette and hinted at some alt-country, classic balladry and even gospel influences in his evolving sound. Build Me This takes from both of these new directions.
Build Me This expands Joshua James’ previous acoustically-grounded arrangements and introduces a host of new sounds. Most striking is the consistent use of electric and slide guitars and the bluesy undertones that gird many of the orchestrations. James’ previous work has always hinted at troubled thoughts, but Build Me This brings the looming darkness to front and center. He growls out lyrics with an intensity not seen before. The lyrical content itself is laced with foreboding as well. This is Joshua James at his darkest.
Do not misconstrue this to mean that Build Me This is a depressing, morose or slow-tempo LP. Quite to the contrary, it is surprisingly raucous! Songs like Coal War, Black July, Mother Mary, Magazine and Kitchen Tile have moments far-removed from James’ usual Americana folk roots. Coal War, for example, opens with an acapella and foot-stomping / hand-clapping harmonized gospel sing along before exploding into a electric guitar and organ-wailing climax. Black July is fully electric, heavy and dark. Mother Mary is ventures down bluesy avenues. Magazine, though progressing as an upbeat alt-country tune, devolves into a haunting violin duet waltz that seems pulled straight out of 1920s Jewish Warsaw. Kitchen Tile climaxes with choral swells throughout.
Complementing some of these newer sounds, Build Me This filled in with James familiar takes on Americana folk tradition. Taken as a whole, the LP holds together very well. His breathy, raspy voice and acoustic guitar tie together the disparate genres he incorporates into his signature sound. The consistent presence of organ and strings also offer a common base for the album as a whole. Build Me This features James evolving his sound without forsaking his roots. Sometimes, artists trying new things venture too far down new paths and loose their footing in unfamiliar territory. James avoids this pitfall: showing growth, experimentation and evolution while holding fast to the artist he has been on previous endeavors.
The fact that James was raised in Lincoln, NE (where I live now) and currently lives in Provo, UT (where I lived during college) makes this triumph of an album all the better. He’s a fairly nice guy as well. Even if he were a complete jerk, however, I would still offer a glowing review of the album. The fact that he seems to be a descent human being is a nice bonus though.
I suggest you purchase Build me This on Vinyl. It is a double LP – with the 4th side adding the 5 songs from the Sing Songs EP! Also, it will include the album on CD!
Visit Joshua James’ myspace or website for more information.
Also consider purchasing his back catalog.
The Joshua James Store
Joshua James on iTunes
Joshua James on Amazon.com