Joshua James - 'Build Me This' LP
Released May 7th 2012 on Intelligent Noise
“Delivers in a raspy voice that sounds wounded at all the right times… The instrumentation is meticulous—nothing sounds out-of-place.” Paste Magazine (9.2 “Phenomenal”)
“A wonderful album of introspective Americana… marvelously evocative” 4/5 Q Magazine
“James specializes in lyrics that cut right through listeners with their sincerity and honesty… This 25-year-old is proving to be more than just another promising singer-songwriter.” NPR
Steeped in the sprawling plains of his native Nebraska and the Utah landscapes he now calls home, Joshua James’ second album Build Me This is an extraordinary blend of the folk and Americana that shaped his upbringing and the singer’s darkly complex and intimate storytelling that touches on themes of personal tragedy, religion, and his country’s industrious past.
Album opener Coal War is a stunning example of the singer’s capabilities; a chain-gang rhythm with gospel harmonies so astute they could’ve been lifted straight from Paul Simon’s Graceland. Casting himself back to the West Virginia coal wars of the 1920s, this is an extremely accomplished protest song echoing those of pioneers Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. “I ain’t openin’ my eyes ‘til we all walk free, ‘til the colour of our skin it don’t mean a damn thing” James yells defiantly, in a track that is testament to the sheer power of his songwriting.
At times, the album’s lush instrumentation is reminiscent of highly emotive film montages, an accolade recognised by the makers of American TV drama Sons of Anarchy: the opening montage of the show’s fourth season was soundtracked by Coal War and featured as Best of 2011 for music in film and TV by Entertainment Weekly.
The remarkable production on Build Me This allows for the subtle pedal steel and organ to shine through, without losing the raw beauty of a true folk album. Comparisons to fellow contemporary folk artists James Vincent McMorrow and Conor Oberst (aka Bright Eyes) are understandable, yet Joshua James carries a more refined and less fragile voice than the latter, with a dynamic ability to drift casually between the soft breathy vocals of Weeds to the whiskey-soaked growl towards the end of fiddle-driven hoedown Annabelle.
To pigeonhole Joshua James into the singer-songwriter category seems shortsighted – though he does indeed sing and write songs, his musical arrangements and lyrics are so much more sophisticated than what those two words might encompass. Though, as the name would suggest, Build Me This is in some ways an album of optimism and creation, it is ultimately one of loss – of families, of hope, of faith; while the album opens with waiting “til the good lord comes”, the final words of finisher Benediction hear Joshua James resign so earnestly: “I’ve given up.”
Despite the hopelessness that closes the album, Joshua James is far from done – Build Me This is the first album to see a release on UK shores, with the Richard Swift produced third LP on its way towards the end of the year.