In anticipation of the November 6th release of his new album, From The Top of Williamette Mountain, Joshua James is offering a free, legal download of his brilliant 2009 album, Build Me This (click title for review). You can access the mp3s by entering your email address into the widget below.
It’s that time of year again! Following are my Top 15 Albums of 2009. As usual, I tried to balance the order of the list between what I personally perceive as artistic merit (quality of songwriting, vocals, and instrumentation) and basic listenability (how many times I played the album throughout the year). I’ve included some new commentary and brief quotes from the original reviews. Click on the album titles to read the full reviews, purchase the albums, and in some cases download mp3s…
“…all dusty roads and sunsets buoyed by rock guitar and drum crashes that eventually give way to sprawling piano and mournful strings” – As his previous release did on 2008’s list, Joshua’s album pushed its way onto this list at the last minute. I suppose it’s the subtlety of his music that prevents it from being more prominent in my memory, but it wasn’t until I listened to the album again that I remembered its excellence.
“…noirish rock sound with lyrics that alternate between whiskey-splashed cabaret and blood-soaked Gothic poetry” – I haven’t had much time to get to know this new release, but it’s already a favorite. I hope more people pay attention to Rykarda’s unique talent.
“… elegant, Medieval chamber-folk instrumentals and haunting traditional vocal pieces ” – This was a surprise. My enjoyment of instrumental music has grown tremendously this year, but I usually place a higher value on vocals. But this lovely album has been one that I’ve returned to and enjoyed many times over the year.
“…Maura O’Connell’s unparalleled vocal power is beautifully displayed in her impressive new album” – This one was sabotaged by the amount of emotion Maura’s voice rips out of me. It’s a gorgeous album from beginning to end, I just have to be in a particular mood to listen to it.
“…filled to the brim with the kind of warped traditional Eastern European music that made me love Luminescent Orchestrii in the first place” – I really expected this to be #1 when I first reviewed it and the stand out tracks are absolutely stunning, but overall I don’t listen to it nearly as much as the albums below.
“…dark, catchy synth-rock with a slight retro Goth feel…think “Blue Monday” by New Order” – This ominously infectious little album worked its way up the list throughout the year. The title track in particular is one that echoes in my head long after the music has stopped.
“…The Decemberists transformed themselves into the hard rock progeny of Led Zeppelin for portions of the album” – This magnificent concept album may be #1 when it comes to artistic merit, but it lacks the overall listenability of others on the list. Still, it’s one of the more impressive projects of the year.
“…finally puts his pipes to good use over soaring rock arrangements” – I loved this album when I first reviewed it and put it on heavy rotation last winter, but hadn’t listened to it much since then. Playing it again made me wonder why I neglected it for so long. If albums have personalities, it has the strongest of the year.
“…whether humming in such hushed tones or belting to the rafters as in latter tracks, there’s an elegance to each note the sextet sings” – This was another release that faded in my memory until I dug it out again and rediscovered how wonderful it is. Now I love it even more than I did when I reviewed it. The duet with Sara Bareilles on “Gravity” is very moving, and their a cappella cover of “White Winter Hymnal” is one of the loveliest recordings I’ve ever heard.
“…Integrating classical and opera music into their theatrical electro-rock sound, Muse have created one of the most exciting song cycles I’ve ever heard” – The brilliance and complexity of Muse’s album still surprises me every time I listen to it. Not only do I love this album, but it’s the one that everyone I know immediately asks about when I play it.
“…the kind of guttural, robust, bluesy soul of James Brown and Screaming Jay Hawkins” – I’ve played this countless times and it’s probably the most fun listen of the year.
“…marries foreboding metal guitar and militant drums to pretty piano and angelic backing vocals, reminding us of Gaba’s fondness for Iron Maiden” – The Top 4 albums on this list are pretty much interchangeable. This is probably the most unusual and creative album on my list. I’ve known Gaba for almost a decade now, and I was happy to see her popularity in Poland skyrocket this year. I think she’s going to be a huge international star someday.
“…a breathtaking blend of militant beats and orchestral strings” – I loved this album from the beginning, but it also turned out to be a grower as repeated listens revealed even more layers to its beauty. It is definitely the most beautiful release of the year, but there are two albums I’ve listened to more…
“…Ominous instrumentation is barely restrained as Stolte’s sultry croon initially floats in” – If the order of this list was based solely on the number of times I’ve listened to an album this year, Great Northern would’ve been #1 by a landslide since I’ve played the album nearly every day since March. It may not be the innovative recording on this list, but it is certainly the most addictive. Only one man could keep it from the top spot…
“…I can’t imagine a more perfect score for my favorite novel of all time” – The quote says it all. This album had an edge since it was based on my favorite book (Cat’s Cradle) and featured my favorite author (Vonnegut), but Soldier’s innovative compositions helped push it to the top of the list. If my imagination had a soundtrack, this would be it.
Joshua James’ spectacular sophomore album Build Me This will be released on September 22nd. The singer-songwriter’s debut The Sun is Always Brighter was sleeper hit on my Top Albums of 2008, and I’m pleasantly surprised that the new disc is even better. The warm tone of Joshua’s voice and the lilt of his phrasing continue to remind me of Xavier Rudd (a big compliment), but there’s a harder rock edge to these new arrangements.
The quiet, almost a capella intro of “Coal War” is quickly yet gently fleshed out into a bluesy gospel number replete with handclaps, stomps, and a backing choir. The latter part of the song bursts from hushed chain gang clang into soaring rock accented with militant drum.
The lyrics of “Magazine” describe a painful separation, but musically it is an Americana ditty – all dusty roads and sunsets buoyed by rock guitar and drum crashes that eventually give way to sprawling piano and mournful strings.
“Mother Mary” is a darker rock ballad dealing with spiritual and social themes – the album’s title Build Me This is a reference to Joshua’s longing for something to believe in. “Black July” remains in murky waters, but churns up into a blues-rock thump.
Other tracks lighten the mood with a return to the softer sound of James’ debut. The prettiest of these is the unrequited love anthem “Lawn Full of Marigolds”.
Joshua’s voice reaches Glen Hansard levels of desperation amid a haunting chorus of voices in “Daniel”. And “Benediction” closes the album with atmospheric rock piano and beautiful, orchestral strings.
Searching Hype, Elbo & Google, it seems the following mp3 is an exclusive to Muruch, at least for now…
Joshua James – Magazine (mp3 expired) *
*mp3 posted for limited time w/ permission of Music Allies
Joshua’s delicate falsetto gently opens the stunner “The New Love Song” before the track bursts into an infectious folk-pop rhythm sprinkled with piano. “Soul & The Sea” delves into murkier waters on the verses, but is buoyed by a catchy chorus.
The quietly beautiful “Geese” in particular reminds me of Xavier Rudd, and contains one of my favorite lyrics ever – “the moon reflects its adjacent sun“. Okay, so maybe you have to hear Joshua’s phrasing to properly appreciate it.
“FM Radio” seems to be the track that others have been circulating the most, but doesn’t stand out to me in comparison to the surrounding tracks. James does a much better job of breathing life into a simple melody on the gorgeous accordion accented “Lord, Devil & Him” and the dulcet piano tune “Abbie Martin”.
“Today” and the glorious, grim protest song “Our Brother’s Blood” burn a darker, cinematic edge on the electric guitar and piano. And the finale “Commodore” swathes anguish with a beautiful melody and earnest vocals.
Joshua James – The New Love Song (mp3 expired)