This is a pretty-sounding album. If you take home nothing else from this review, at least take that. If you are incapable of admiring music that makes you feel warm inside, it may be best that you skip to the next article now. For me though, Joseph Childress captures a simple beauty. His songs are slow rambles through rolling hills and serene pastures. Sometimes the journey is sad, sometimes happy, mostly just content and thoughtful–musings on ones small happenings within the grand machinery of life.
Thanks in part to producer Mike Coykendall, known for his work with neo-vintage groups such as She & Him and Bright Eyes, Childress’ latest self-titled LP can best be described as an innovation of nostalgia treading somewhere between Bob Dylan’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan or Nashville Skyline and Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Its layers of haunting acoustic instruments give the impression of a cavalry of ghost musicians playing the ballads of a time long forgotten. Yet the record never feels derivative, but fresh and honest, an achievement among lesser artists trying to recapture the spirit of ‘60s folk revival.
Like Dylan and NMH’s Jeff Mangum, Childress places narrative at the forefront of his craft. Each song feels like a window in time, fixing our gaze on some seemingly random stranger’s going-abouts and how meaningful those moments are. The scenes are rural microfictions in a nebulous era dusty as the Great Depression yet current as the seconds you’re taking to read this. It’s enough to make you wonder if the whispering Americana he describes still exists and pushes you to search for it regardless.
Standout tracks include My Land, Footsteps, Leaving the Barren Ground, I am the Dust, Whispering Tide, and Virginia Bound. However to achieve the desired effect, listeners should play the album in order from start to finish. Each track feels like a new town visited while walking a long journey, a new experience had there. They become chapters in a larger arching story, and though I would be hard pressed to call this a “concept album,” it does capture the larger arch of life: overall plotless, but full of smaller beginnings, middles and endings all linked by invisible strings of lesson and experience.
Joseph Childress’ debut album is available October 6th through Empty Cellar Records. Be sure to request it at your local music store.
Digital Downloads will also be available on Empty Cellar’s official Bandcamp page.
He also appears to have a Myspace page, which is kind of cool in itself.
To hold you over, lend an ear to his soothing music video for “Dance with Me” from his prior album The Rebirths: