Back in 2012 when I was still driving my Son to his gigs, he was lucky enough to have a support slot opening for Josh at the wonderful TwickFolk acoustic music club. Just as an aside, I have been back to TwickFolk several times since and it really is a well run club, not just confined to the vagaries of traditional folk but open to blues, country, Americana and beyond, so I would recommend a visit for any music lover at a loose end on a Sunday evening in Twickenham!
At the time, I remember us being very impressed with Josh as a solo performer, particularly his effortlessly smooth guitar playing, sweetly husky voice and mix of roots influences in his timeless song writing. Throw in an unexpected, but none the less virtuoso, cover of Richard Thompson's 'Vincent Black Lightening' and everyone left happy. We bagged a copy of his EP 'Nowhere' and the opening song 'Whiskey & Morphine' remains a regular 'return to' favourite of mine.
Back then, Josh, who hails from North Dakota, was over from the USA in the middle of a UK tour. The intervening three and a half years have seen him doing much of the same, relentlessly on the road covering 41 States and countries all across Europe as well as fitting in return visits to the United Kingdom.
On first listen to this current CD 'Holding On', the thing that immediately struck me was how full and cohesive the overall sound was. Much of this is explainable by Josh's decision to record all the base tracks live in the studio with a core band, and a wonderfully tight one at that!
I guess the engine room here would be Josh on acoustic and electric guitar and vocals, Scott Beardsley on drums and Chris Boeger on bass, the three ever presents on all tracks. Additional instrumentation, which varies from song to song, includes electric guitar, banjo, mandolin, lap steel, dobro and hammond organ, all beautifully played and arranged.
In addition, the balance between instruments and the setting of Josh's voice in the playback mix enhances this fresh feel, so a special mention to the DNA Music Labs where the recordings were engineered and mixed by Mark Whitcomb, who also shared the production duties with Blake Thomas.
The ten tracks on this CD, eight originals, one co- write and one cover, span a broad range of topics and themes yet remain both commercial and radio friendly. In fact, the accessibility and genre skipping vibe of this record reminded me very much of Chris Stapleton's multi award winning 'Traveller' album, which to my ears at least is a very good thing!
The opening and title track 'Holding On' enters in full Americana band mode with Josh's voice sounding strong and clear. It has a restless, in motion feel and is an ideal 'road' song to set things off.
'The Kind' follows and is a slower number with a lovely, spacey guitar line that picks up in tempo and prompts some clever pacing changes that really showcase the great rhythm section.
Song three 'Round And Round' is simply brilliant! It manages that feat of having seemingly obvious influences but without sounding remotely derivative. Starting with a lovely acoustic guitar riff from Josh, the band come tumbling in after a few seconds chugging along like JJ Cale covering Dire Straits 'Sultans of Swing'! Josh delivers a half spoken, half sang vocal in Knopfler esque style with a ridiculously catchy chorus before the song exits on some 'Riders on the Storm' type keyboards.
Very much an early stand out song and just made for the radio.
And so it goes through the album, not a filler in sight and with this standard of material choosing favourites is difficult.
However, I would just like to pick out another couple to say a bit more about.
Track six, 'Ballad for a Friend' starts with another from Josh's endless supply of great acoustic riffs which drives the song through and this track really shows off the band to great effect, particularly the guitar and dobro playing. A perfect driving song and again, made for the radio. I can already hear Bob Harris waxing lyrical about this in the early hours of the morning on BBC Radio 2!
The final track 'English Rain' is sublime. Probably the most straightforwardly acoustic song on the album, although by no means stark, it also features Josh's best vocal. Beautifully recorded, his voice sits on top of the mix and it really shows his warmth, range and phrasing. It's another restless, road story with hints of missing home and what might have been, but all delivered without a hint of self pity or complaint. A stunning song and really quite moving I found.
As I said earlier, choosing highlight songs on an album this good is difficult. I have also noticed that my favourites are starting to shift a bit and the sweet picking and Nick Drake mood of 'Running', the classic drive of 'You And The Road' with its John Hiatt type swagger and the country bar thrash of 'Shiver In The Dark' are vying for attention. This is another sign of a quality record, where repeated plays reveal more rather than less.
These are beautifully recorded, well-written songs with depth and character, consummately performed by a great band. Factor in a sound that is also commercial and radio friendly and here is the full package.
A very fine album indeed and if any of this is toured live in the States with the full band, get there!
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