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Well, Then, I'll Go To Hell


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Those who recently saw Utah-based singer-songwriter Joshua James as the support act for Neil Finn in Adelaide (with Evan Coulombe on second guitar) probably had a pleasant surprise. After all, James is not well known here. On the strength of that performance and this latest album, however, he certainly deserves to be.

All the songs on Well Then, I’ll Go to Hell were written by the members of renowned band Modest Mouse, who also produced the disk. That makes it a special kind of covers album. It is a step away from James’s From the Top of Willamette Mountain, for which he composed every track, and yet a clear continuity of style is evident.

James has a slight and aching, plaintive edge to his voice that borders on the C&W style of vocal flick /sob, occasionally reminiscent of Passenger. He sings with restraint, and that tension can be let out with great effect. “Baby Blue Sedan” complements this, haunted by backing voices that suggest grief without being too direct and emotive.

The other-worldliness of some tunes is emphasised by spare production that highlights the relatively few instruments employed, commonly piano, guitar and drums. An outstanding example is “Sleepwalking” (not the old standard), a mesmerising story sketched against a carefully paced and tremelo-laced guitar backing.

The music is frequently gentle to begin with but then gradually layered, building until it has a shimmering substantiality, such as in “Lives” or the touch more gritty “Out of Gas”. “Gravity Rides Everything” combines fascinating and spare percussion with other gradually added instrumentation.

These are short songs, and at under 30 minutes the album may seem, well, frugal. It is beautifully balanced, though, and pulls you back for frequent replaying. This is inventive, moving and assured stuff from an artist at the top of his game.

Joshua James’ Well, Then, I’ll Go To Hell is released through Northplatte Records.


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