Joshua Black Wilkins: A Nashville Original

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When I first moved to Nashville about three years ago, I caught Joshua Black Wilkins by chance at the east side club, The Five Spot. He was playing an essentially solo set – he’s usually got a rockabilly band – with only Amanda Shires by his side, on fiddle and harmony vocals. He had his vocals hooked up through an old radio microphone or Green Bullet or something like that and when he sang a version of Ryan Adams’ “Come Pick Me Up,” you absolutely felt every word of the song from the bottom of Wilkins’ beat-up, broken-down, throaty voice. As the crowd thinned out during Wilkins’ sparse set, it seemed like maybe I alone was blown away that night. For some reason, it’s taken three years for American Songwriter to pay respect to the music of this true Nashville original.

Wilkins moonlights as a photographer – or does he moonlight as a musician? – and going through his work is like a walk through Nashville – icons like Marty Stuart and the late Charlie Louvin; mainstays like Bobby Bare; newer arrivals like Dan Auerbach; comers and goers like Patterson Hood.

His music is clearly a reflection of the world that his photographs inhabit: staunchly American and a bit haunted and decaying. The characters on Wilkins’ new album, While You Wait, tend to be tortured like the protagonist of a good noir novel. In “Catch Your Fall,” with its sweeping chorus fiddle lines, Wilkins deals with a relationship in which, to borrow a line from his buddy Justin Townes Earle, he seems to know better but just not give a fuck. Pitch-perfect lines like “you look better in black and white” and “you look better when you’re 3,000 miles away” tell the conflicted love story without ever giving away too much.