Joshua James is a remarkably gifted artist. His voice has both the soft, subtlety needed to bring listeners in, yet the potential to powerfully project a melody. His vocal quality is unrivaled in terms of its uniqueness. When you hear his music you think, “I’ve heard this guy before” but can’t seem to figure out where. The new release From the Top of Willamette Mountain is more of what makes so good. It’s a great blend of his vocals with easy rock songs.
From the first notes on the opening track “Misty” James’s vocals come through in their typically penetrating way. Later on the album “Surrender” brings exceptional two part harmonies over a timeless Americana beat. Blending the efforts of the two songs, we can hear variety that simultaneously has a cohesive flavor focused on James’s strength – his voice.
“Willamette Mountain” is by far the class of the album. It’s written from a very old fashioned vibe. James finger picks the beginning, which allows for a minimal sound and highlights the sincerity of his vocals. The lyrics are at times a bit unclear, but the vibe of the song is extremely comfortable. It almost has a folksy Christmas flavor to it. Maybe it’s the timing of the fall release, but it feels like it should be accompanied with a cup of hot chocolate.
The track “Sister” sounds heavily influenced by late-career Beatles. I don’t mean that it has a quirkiness of “Yellow Submarine” but rather the chord structure and harmonies seem reminiscent of that important moment in music history. James channels an intriguing sound that drives equal parts aggression and complexity.
“Wolves” might be the most fascinating song on the album in terms of lyrical complexity that truly serves to highlight the flavor of the song. What I mean is that it’s really good start to finish. Also echoing some 60s guitar flavor, the song celebrates some dark relationships. “It was a lovely Friday evening with lovely fellow heathens, but darlin’ I don’t know the reasons that drinkin’ always leads to sex.” It’s the sort of writing that is so rock and roll. Good work Mr. James. Oh, and just to be clear, he does sing “Ah-oooo” like wolf’s howl. Clever.
The album ends with a feel good tune, “Feel the Same.” It’s an emotional song. It seems a fitting end of the album. The sound is folk revival. James asks if he’s ever going to feel the same. It’s a song that takes an adventure. It’s an odyssey, seeking understanding and meaning in what seems to be a terribly lost place.
Overall this is an enjoyable album. Fans of James will find this a delightful addition to their listings. While my favorites tend to be the stripped down, simpler songs, I do think the other songs on the album do a good job of staying “true” to what Joshua James does well. It’s more of the same but in the best way possible.