Written during 2020 lockdown and recorded back in 2021, Joseph’s follow up to the Patterson Hood-produced The Beautiful Madness finally sees light of day, this time Eric Ambel behind the desk for an album that sets the guitars to ring and chime, digs into Springsteen and Dylan folk rock (and some Graham Parker too) and makes you want to fist the sky. Hell, Baby You’re The Man Who Would Be King even has a harmonica.
It opens with such, borrowing the title but nothing else from a novel by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley for the folk rock stomping ‘The War I Finally Won’, a cry of personal triumph over the odds and self-acceptance as he advises “some days just accept the battle/Hide in the trees or get back in the saddle”, followed with yet more harp and relentless drum thump by the Kipling-alluding title track the lyrics of which sport clear pandemic references (“darkness may be coming but we will not fear”) as well as a mention of listening to Aretha singing ‘I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You’ as he strikes a note of hope and optimism that “we’re gonna get through this”.
Mary Lee Kortes join him to harmonise on the slower, but still ringing organ shaded ’20 20 Moons’ with its theme of leaving (“a frequent flyer knows when it’s time to disappear”) or staying (“there must be something, maybe/That keeps you her to tell the tale”), Phil Cimino’s drums and a twangsome guitar carrying the sway of ‘Book Burning’, a metaphor-heavy song about putting old relationship memories and regrets on the bonfire. There’s definite Parkerisms to be heard on ‘Canadian Boyfriend’, this time with Prince and ‘Manic Monday’ getting the namecheck, as indeed also inform ‘Carmen Miranda’ (along with Garland Jeffries), the Brazilian icon renowned for her literally fruity headgear, another number about knowing when the time’s come to throw in the towel (“I can hear when the heart turns off/There’s no more tears/And I know/When they play that song/It’s time to go”).
Featuring Joe Flood on fiddle, ‘Am I OK’ sports a Dylanish 6os folk rock bounce with lyrics to match such as “If I’m supposed to die here/On this blue Ikea rug/I’d implore you gentlemen/To rustle up some harder drugs/I didn’t come here to battle monsters/I came here for a hug” as he implores “I’m down here in the darkness/Throw some fucking light my way”.
Though disappointingly having only nine tracks, it never short-changes, the final two clocking up 11 minutes between then, the first up being the six-minute slow walking, guitar chiming, harmonica blowing ‘Loving Kindness’ about being able to forgive, yourself especially (“Hold your wife/And your little kids/Forgive yourself/For the things you did” and that “though the night always comes/So will the sun”, his record collection this time calling on Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ as Major Tom “lays it out in a simple song”. Cody Nilsen on pedal steel, it ends with him ‘Leaving The Lights On’, all steady, drawled and raspy as it builds in intensity for a song about facing down the demons and letting your inner beam shine through because “there ain’t a hole/You can dig so deep/To keep that magic down”. At one point he sings “the problem with choice/ Is you have to choose”. This is a no brainer.
Artist’s website: www.jerryjoseph.com
‘The Man Who Would Be King’:
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