Joshua James: From the Top of Willamette Mountain

Joshua James
From the Top of Willamette Mountain
(Intelligent Noise)
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

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. It’s simple but never simplistic music with predominantly live in the studio performances given a dusting of production—with a heavy twist of reverb– from Richard Swift (Damien Jurado) that makes them seem beamed in from some mystical doppelganger universe. Alternately delicate, dreamy and unsettling, James sings as if possessed and his winding songs follow suit. The first single, the comparatively poppy “Queen of the City” and the following 60s vibe of “Surrender” jump out of the sweet, pulsing melodic fog with “So Did I” sounding like a great lost Bee Gees B-side from their early “I Started a Joke” days. Obviously James is not your typical introspective strummer and this is not an album whose substantial charms cover you right away. But soon enough they will, beckoning you back for yet another listen to peel back the onion of tunes that can be dense yet beautifully intricate.