Album Review: Joshua Hyslop – In Deepest Blue
If the name Joshua Hyslop seems familiar, dear reader, it’s because we’ve covered him before on this site. This album released last year, but we didn’t get a chance to cover it until now. In fact, it was an end of the year list nominee for me, so it’s definitely a favorite. Hyslop’s tender songwriting style is a favorite of mine. The way he can write clear, poetic lines that convey powerful images with such subtle melodies… well it’s just great. Fans of artists like Joshua James or William Fitzsimmons really MUST add Hyslop to their libraries. He’s exceptional.
In Deepest Blue is an album full of adventures and stories. Hyslop’s delivery makes each song go down like a smooth whiskey. It warms you from the inside. There’s just something powerful in each of his lines. In the opener, “how much more can I take? I know my time is running short…” gives a sense of urgency and priorities. It’s about “coming home again” and although the song doesn’t speak of a specific situation, we can all relate to that feeling of an ultimate contingency. If we can just get home – and really be there for and with someone – everything will work out.
The production quality on this album is superb. There are strings and backing elements that really highlight Hyslop’s style. It comes across as a sort of indie singer songwriter with a dash of country. But he is so much more than a genre definer. Instead, he’s a gifted musician with a knack for telling beautiful stories. “Falling” is an exquisite example of just this kind of storytelling. “It’s been a while since we’ve spoken, still I haven’t got the words right now… I’m falling for answers to the questions that I cannot face…” If you haven’t been in a moment where you can relate to that lyric, I applaud you. Because they happen and they are not easy. The emotional strings that Hyslop pulls in this album are numerous. Honestly – and I mean this as a compliment – sometimes I have to stop the album before I can continue my listen just because the lyrics transport me to places and moments from my past that rattle me. THAT is songwriting.
“Everything Unsaid” is introspective and deeply moving to me. There’s some religious imagery, which I really appreciate. But beyond that, it’s about reflecting on your own self identity compared to how others view you. “I know that what I’ve said won’t compare with what I’ve done.” It’s written from a place that, to me, seems to reflect genuinely on the dichotomy of “good versus evil” even if it’s not an explicitly religious track.
“Last Train Home” is an absolute stunner of a track. I’ve written about this one before (made 2015’s top songs list). It’s got a wonderful gospel vibe with just the right amount of bluesy flair. “If it’s all the same to you, love, I will take the last train home.” You see it’s about love, but it’s also about something more. The production on it is impeccable, providing layers of piano, organ, and of course guitar. The vocals are even so gently layered that they draw out the message of the song. It’s about moving on in the absolute best way possible. Phenomenal.
“Runs & Winds” has some lovely fingerpicking along with Hyslop’s characteristic singing. It all melts together for the kind of relaxing song that you’d expect for a day with an easy, cool rain. “I’m sitting by the river… let the water come and wash away my fear.” That works, too. What incredible writing. The title track “In Deepest Blue” actually slows my heartbeat a little bit; I’m not sure what it is about the composition, but it’s such a calming and gorgeous melody. It reminds me more than any of the others of William Fitzsimmons. It’s almost a lullaby in its construction and it’s so very exquisite. It reminds me of one of those really intricately designed doll houses – every detail perfect and in its proper place. No matter how many times I hear it, there’s a new wrinkle or inflection that sucks me in even deeper.
“Gone” is an interesting song, too. It’s probably the most “country” on the album, but still firmly in the folk category. The strum pattern and rolling feel to the song really makes it seem like it’s from a different era. It’s about yet a different version of an identity crisis. “When I’m gone, Lord knows I’ll be gone.” The final track, “Tonight” calms the tempo back down again. It lulls the listener into a comfortable bliss. Hyslop seems to find a new even lower register than his typical, then beautifully later in the song moves to a transcendent falsetto. It really works nicely, giving a gruff sensibility to his message then a light flight to allow the message to soar.
All told, I love this album. Hyslop is one of the most talented musicians I have had the opportunity to cover, not just for his ability to play the guitar (expertly), but for his eloquent songwriting. These are not just songs to sell albums; they are poems of the highest order. His delivery really makes them rise to new heights. I look forward to following Hyslop’s career closely. He tours incessantly, so be sure to look out for dates when he’s near you; his live show is well worth your time and he’s a genuine, approachable artist. Please support his work.