on 17 November 2012
James' 2009 album 'Build Me This' was adversely affected by what I felt was a wispy vocal and songs that couldn't sustain the strength of excellent album opener 'Coal War', but I had an instinct that this album and that song suggested the promise of a stronger musician.
Joshua James' latest 'From the Top of Willamette Mountain' delivers that promise with a mature and melodic development. The maturity is, for me, in the vocal where sounding a little like Ray LaMontagne is sustained across the whole album. Not a wisp within hearing distance. This does matter and provides the vocal depth the tunes and lyrics deserve. There is also more expansiveness in the overall production provided by Richard Swift that includes some lush harmonies, not dissimilar to his own work as a recording artist.
First track 'Mystic' is a good example where a simple but effective song gains resonance through a rousing chorus, especially as it rises out of the slow deliberation of the song's main melody. Second 'Queen of the City' provides a quick contrast with its rockier rhythms and some tight harmonising on the main vocal. Fourth 'Doctor, Oh Doctor', although layered with echoing guitar, has James' vocal to the fore in folk mode, narrating as a main focus. Fifth 'So Do I' begins with rather jaunty handclap rhythms, but this grows into a sweet crescendo of harmony singing, echoing guitars again layered within the mix. The title track is the sixth song and returns to that folk mode with fleeting moments sounding like Simon and Garfunkel's 'The Boxer'. Seventh 'Ghost in the Town' sustains this mature progress with another simply written song that is shaped to sonic effect by tight harmonies and more Lanoisesque guitarscapes.
There are eleven tracks in all and it is pleasing throughout. It will be interesting to continue following this thoughtful singer-songwriter's progress, especially if he replicates that made between this and his previous album.
on 7 January 2014
Willamette Mountain is Indie-Folk/singer-songwriter Joshua James' farmhouse in Utah, named after a purely fictional mountain whose name was in turn inspired by the Willamette Valley of Oregon, where he recorded From The Top Of Willamette Mountain. Whether it was intentional or not, naming a mountain after a valley was entirely appropriate in a metaphorical sense considering the album's lyrics, which deal with life's ups and downs; love and loss, life and death. Produced by The Shins' Richard Swift, From The Top Of Willamette Mountain is the greatest contemporary Folk album since Ray LaMontagne's Trouble.