MARK JOSEPH – Vegas Motel (own label)

Vegas MotelSinger/songwriter Mark Joseph is a man who likes to keep busy. Between full-time gigs playing with Big Wu, Momentary Lapse Of Floyd, and other projects, one might wonder just how he made time to write, compose, and record his newest record, Vegas Motel.

Clocking in at just over 37 minutes, Joseph makes room for only the essentials, eschewing much of the jam-based improvisation one might associate with his primary group. Produced alongside JT Bates, Vegas Motel presents as a singer/songwriter album in the truest sense, pulling inspiration from some of the great country and Americana records from decades past.

Title track, ‘The Vegas Motel’, gets things started, and sounds as though it could’ve been lifted directly from a mid-70s Gary Stewart album. A drinking and heartache tune in the long-celebrated tradition of Hank Sr., ‘The Vegas Motel’ is a pump-fake of sorts in terms of where it implies the album is headed. In fact, the discernible twang that defines the opening number is steadily mitigated throughout the progression of the album. Teles are swapped out for Martins, and tales of hardship are ceded to quiet ruminations on a life settled. It isn’t an unwelcome shift, just an unexpected one.

Vegas Motel isn’t an instrumentally dense affair. Rather, the songs take precedence here, and every instrumental element has a defined role to fill. Tasteful guitar solos crop up throughout, with ‘Nate’s Garage’ and ‘I Love You Till’ I Die’ boasting some exquisitely executed tones. Expressive fiddle guides much of the album along and takes centre-stage in the side two opener ‘Early Riser’ courtesy of Ryan Young of Trampled By Turtles.

Vocally, Joseph evokes Steve Earle and Eric Church in tone much of the time. This conversationalism is well suited to the more subdued tracks which comprise the album’s second half. ‘I Love You Till’ I Die’ satisfyingly juggles its disparate elements to offer up a dynamic ballad without overblowing the track. Muted brass swells compliment a relaxed tempo that’s practically begging Bernard ‘Pretty’ Purdie to lay down his distinctive Purdie Shuffle. Lyrically, the song is a cornerstone of the theme being constructed by the album and finds the songwriter revelling in the security of domestic bliss, capping things off with perhaps the most beautifully expressive guitar solo on the album.

‘Little Lucy’, presumably an ode to Joseph’s daughter, is another album highlight. The track is carried by an almost Hawaiian sounding melody which further aligns it with Walter Becker’s ‘Little Kawai’, the Steely Dan mastermind’s tribute to his own son from his criminally overlooked solo debut, 1994’s 11 Tracks of Whack.

What may be the high point of the entire album occurs roughly halfway through in the form of side one closer, ‘The Life Of A Pipe Welder.’ The track takes on an Americana tone initially, and shifts dynamically throughout, ebbing and flowing through atmospheric touches of pop and alternative production which colour the proceedings nicely.

Vegas Motel’s primary offering is the songs around which the album is built. But the record acts, in a sense, as a sample platter of some of the most enduring tropes of American music from the past six decades or so. Enthusiasts of roots, country, folk, Americana, rock, and bluegrass will find plenty to engage with here, and Joseph’s candour and storytelling instinct will appeal to listeners on the hunt for something with depth. Vegas Motel is an aesthetic pleasure – a musician’s album – and will leave many a listener anticipating the next endeavour of Mark Joseph.

Cameron Gunnoe

Artists Website:

‘The Vegas Motel’ – official lyric video: