Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tuesday Tune: "Daniel" by Joshua James

I'm the first to admit Joshua James got lost in the blizzard of Joshes* which hit my iPod a couple of years ago.  Josh Rouse, Joshua Radin, Josh Ritter, Joshua James--all good folk-rockers who sing earnestly of grappling with matters of the soul.  But with so many similar names landing on my playlist all at the same time, it was hard to tell one from the other.

It wasn't long before Joshua James rose above the pack, due in large part to the careful attention he gives his lyrics.  That sensitivity has not been without its critics.  In a review of Build Me This, James' 2009 album, No Depression calls the song-writing "murky" with "gloomy quasi-religious platitudes about coming home and the sorry state of the human soul—the road leads to destruction, we’ll all be damned in the morning, hate is all we show, how painful is our fate, and on and on."  I respectfully disagree.  Where No Depression sees opacity, I find illumination.  The songs--especially on Build Me This and Sun Is Always Brighter--don a deep-sea diving suit and go to the bottom of our souls.  If there's any murk to be found, it's the dark mud he stirs up while walking around that ocean floor.  I always come away from a James song feeling both refreshed and troubled at the same time.

Joshua James strikes me as an artist who is always singing every syllable as if he meant it.  He has a voice with claw-marks scraped down the middle.  His scratchy tenor sometimes hovers around a whisper, but in the shift of a stanza, explodes into a howl.  Witness the power of "Daniel," for instance.  It's a relatively soft song until around 1:45 when he bursts into the chorus:
So you, so you say you never wanted war
So you, so you say that's what love is for
So you, so you say you never wanted war
What the, Lord what the hell is all our fighting for?

Give a look (Note: The video is not an official one, merely something put together by a fan--so you only get the album cover floating like a screensaver.  But that's okay, it's the song not the image which matters most):

"Daniel" soars, throws fists into the air, hard-pumps the heart, stops us in our tracks to wonder, "Yeah, what the hell is all our fighting for, anyway?"  I am roused by Joshua James' voice, and find myself thinking deeper thoughts than normal as I cruise down the interstate with my iPod.

"Daniel" is the song that has lately gotten stuck in my head--finger repeatedly hitting the repeat button --but I'd highly recommend other songs from his oeuvre, especially "In the Middle," "Coal War" (whose gospel-stomp refrain repeats, "I ain't cuttin' my hair til the good Lord comes"), "Dear Darcy," and "FM Radio."

If you'd like to purchase "Daniel" from Amazon, click here.

*But not, thankfully, Josh Groban

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