Release Date: Nov 6, 2012
Record label: Intelligent Noise Records
Genre(s): Folk, Pop/Rock
In “Mystic”, the forest-echoing opener to From the Top of Willamette Mountain, Nebraska-born Joshua James sounds as if he’s aspiring not for an authentic take on Americana—the kind his press materials wax rustic about—but instead the hundred-bucks-a-ticket stadium folk of Mumford and Sons. The way each note of the acoustic guitar seems to resound for miles, heightening the sense of distance James’ music is meant to evoke, is a direct mirror to the ever-popular British troupe. The oversaturation of songwriters yearning for an Old America sensibility in modern indie music—where the music is pastoral as the shirts are plaid— means that songwriters like James, however talented they may be, face one hell of an uphill battle.
It’s doubtful you will hum many songs from singer/songwriter/storyteller Joshua James’ third album after its first spin. That’s not a criticism because James has crafted an envelope of sound to bolster his unique, almost choirboy styled vocals, that’s easy to tumble into. Thumping, cymbal-free percussion underpin many tracks, adding an eerie heartbeat to what are already pensive, skewed slices of American pie that can only tangentially be considered folk.
Willamette Mountain is the name US singer-songwriter Joshua James gives to his home in Utah, where he keeps goats and chickens and grows his own vegetables, a close-to-the-land existence that affords him ample opportunity to contemplate the cycles of life and death. Which he does, on his third album, with an earnestness that often comes across as maudlin. He sings of dying alone, of not believing in much, and of a darkness inside his heart, all in a voice that dips, rasps and soars much the way Marcus Mumford's does.
Joshua James’ dubbed his home and farm, which he shares with his wife and an assembly of animals, Willamette Mountain in order to “create an imaginary place where anything and everything was possible. ” The dreamy title track on the singer’s third release winds its listener up this hopeful mountainside to a rustic homestead, of which James sings, “A sheepskin for winter and a tin can for rain / I can cut you fresh ginger if you say that you’re stayin’ / I got a million more stories / Only half aren’t true / Here inside Willamette Mountain. ” The song’s acoustic guitar hangs back, allowing James’ earnest voice (a bit of Marcus Mumford at times; at others, Ray LaMontagne) to repeatedly croon “I am not real” at the fore.
Having set a gold standard earlier in the year with the belated UK release of his second album ‘Build Me This’, Joshua James’ second release of 2012 is a thoughtful and pleasantly warm collection of songs that are steeped in the sound of Americana. Laden heavy with melodrama, the eleven tracks on ‘From The Top Of Willamette Mountain’ conjure up images of vast American landscapes and lonely vistas, punctuated occasionally with a wonderful sense of black-humoured playfulness. Take for example the big band and piano stomp nature of ‘Surrender’ where vocally at least, James sounds most reminiscent of Tom McRae as opposed to any lazy comparisons currently floating around to Ben Howard.