Category: Joshua james

Birthday Coverfolk, Vol. 3: Tocayos
(17 Coversongs from Rouse, Radin, Ritter, Pyke, James and White)

January 13th, 2010 — 09:41 pm

Tomorrow, January 14th, is my birthday – my third, in fact, since beginning the musical journey we call Cover Lay Down. Two years ago, in celebration, we featured covers of and from musicians who shared my birthday, a list that included Allen Toussaint, Dave Grohl, LL Cool J, and T-Bone Burnett. Last year, we gathered in covers of and from a set of artists born in 1973, and that was fun, too: it’s hard to feel old when you’re the same age as Andrew Bird, Rufus Wainwright, and other luminaries whose careers are still gathering steam.

As a set of bonus party favors, I’ve re-upped the songs on those old entries. But don’t click through just yet. Because this year, in an attempt to continue the trend, I’ve decided to step out of the pseudonym a bit to feature artists who share my name.

Oh, I know: you know me as boyhowdy, a convenient pseudonym whose murky origins involve a series of band rehearsals and my own high tendency towards ADHD distraction. But in the meatworld, I’m known as Joshua: an old testament name, and – according to Wikipedia – “a species of arborescent monocot native to North America”. Due to its biblical origins, it’s a popular name, especially among Jews – until recently one of the top five male names in the US, in fact – and as such, it’s no oddity to find several beloved artists in my collection who share it.

Surprisingly, there’s no English word for “someone who shares the same name as you” – namesake is close, but despite what Wiktionary claims, it technically only means “someone named after”. But though I’m not so self-centered as to believe that fave singer-songwriters Josh Ritter and Josh Radin were named after lil’ ol’ me, and am reasonably confident that I myself was not named after early Piedmont folk-bluesman Josh White, to share a name with someone is to share a special kind of connection. And happily, there’s a lovely word for this coincidental soul-connection in Spanish – tocayo – suggesting that other cultures, at least, recognize this nombrelationship as valid and meaningful.

No matter; we’re happy to take our linguistics where we find them here at Cover Lay Down. Y, convenientemente, mis tocayos se incluido muchos cantautores increíble. Here, then, are some of mis tocayos.

I was lucky enough to see Josh Ritter at the Green River Festival way back in 2003, before he graduated to the festival mainstage and beyond; I even plopped down next to him on the lawn to check out Redbird, with Erin McKeown alongside us both, once his set was finished. Ritter is a few years younger than I am, but he exploded onto the scene young, thanks in part to some attention from Glen Hansard, and a knack for backstory-rich songsmithing which resonated with audiences here and abroad; trivia buffs may also note that Ritter was recently married to Dawn Landes, whose gorgeous voice has been featured in these pages several times before as well, so clearly, the guy’s doin’ alright for himself.

These days, in fact, Ritter is huge; his recent Symphony Hall show was well-blogged, and it’s hard to imagine topping any show where the first Poet Laureate of the United States opens for you. But I’ll always think of him as the kid with the goofy grin, the slow vocal drawl, and a talent for earnest, down-to-earth lyrics and well-crafted love songs that ache with authentic adolescent longing. I’d been holding out for a full feature on the lad, but we dropped his great cover of Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel a few months ago, and today’s theme just wouldn’t be complete without a few favorites, so what the hell: here’s five.

I first heard of Aussie singer-songwriter Josh Pyke a few summers ago, thanks to an incredibly well-textured folkpop Kate Bush cover on No Man’s Woman, a collection of male Down Under artists covering their female counterparts’ signature tunes. Since then, Pyke has come out with a sophomore album that seems to have spawned several singles, but to be perfectly honest, I’m cribbing off Wikipedia here. It’s not just me, either: Pyke charts high back home, and he’s won several ARIA industry awards in the adult contemporary category in his native land, but although the streams on his website are deliciously McCartney-esque and soundtrack-ready, and despite regular airplay on “national youth broadcaster” Radio Triple J, which coverlovers know well for its ongoing series of cover challenges to the musicians they host, he seems to be relatively unknown in the States. Perhaps these two vastly different covers will help raise some well-deserved consciousness.

Ohio-based singer-songwriter Joshua Radin is prone to that slow, delicate echo-and-hushfolk that tends to accompany those maudlin Scrubs montages in which Zach Braff’s character stares morosely into the distance; sure enough, he was one of the Grammy-winning Garden State soundtrack compiler and indie music champion’s proudest discoveries, and his list of television and movie soundtrack appearances puts most other, older folksingers to shame. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that: in his element, Radin is one of my favorite indiefolk artists, capturing the inner life of ache and winter longing in a low whisper and soaring, perceptive lyrics.

We featured (okay, buried) Radin’s totally emo pianofolk take on the Sesame Street theme a few months ago, and it seemed pretty popular. He also does a killer eighties cover. Here’s two, to prove it.

I wrote about mid-western alt-folk singer Joshua James recently in passing, and posted a newly-found tradcarol (Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel) from his holiday sampler to boot. But since then, I’ve been slowly falling in love with the empathy he wrings from his strained, half-broken tenor, most especially the way it wraps around the subtle banjo and guitar strains of his recent Daytrotter session. I don’t usually use Dylanesque as a compliment, but it fits perfectly here, especially in his rhythmic sense, and his tough treatment of tragedy; there’s shades of Neil Young’s darkness, too, though the voice is easier on the ears. And Paste loves him, but we’ll let you make your own call.

Josh Rouse‘s new album El Turista is due to drop in a few weeks, so he’s closer to the top of my mind – and my stacks – than most of the other folks on today’s list, if only because I really haven’t spent the time I should have to get into his good works. Partially, that’s because the harder-edged alt-country side of folk tends to get short shrift in my collection anyway, what with my preference for true-blue folk and pop harmonies. But it’s also because his cover work tends almost exclusively towards the slow and maudlin, while the rest of his songstyles range widely – which makes them easy to collect piecemeal, and a bit easier to rummage through outside of the usual old-school full-album format, but ironically, makes them a bit less cohesive as a full playlist altogether.

But what Rouse does, he does exceptionally well: his perfectly radiopop 2005 album Nashville, especially, has had its fair share of play and replay in my collection, both for its dreamy-to-alt-rocking diversity and its catchy guitar hooks; his quiet bedroom cover of The Clash, from a mag sampler released the same year, is a personal favorite. And the man is terribly prolific, with over a dozen albums in as many years, and more if you count the deliciously intimate ongoing self-released Bedroom Classics Closet Archives subscription series he’s been running off his website, which so far have included great live concert recordings, in-studio sets with string quartets, and the below Mother Love Bone cover.

Finally, turning back the clock a bit, my archives reveal a few old tracks from pre-revival folkie and “Singing Christian” Josh White which would have fit in just fine with last Sunday’s Subgenre Coverfolk feature on the Acoustic Blues. White spent the first wave of his career doing the blues gospel circuit, and it shows in his vocal mannerisms: there’s a bit of Nat King Cole or Sam Cooke’s croon here, coupled with the faintest post-transition crack and yodel. Laid over a barely audible laid-back acoustic guitar, it’s the real deal, sad with the fields, ready for the folk-world fame that never truly caught up to him before his 1969 passing, though his early years were thankfully flush.

Thinking it’s time to give something back? Donations are always nice, but all I really want for my birthday is a comment and some good wishes. How ’bout it, folks?

1,781 comments » | Josh Pyke, Josh Ritter, Josh Rouse, Josh White, Joshua james, Joshua Radin

Covering The Working Life: Songs About Day Jobs (From Those Who Don’t Have Them)

August 26th, 2008 — 11:02 pm

Ever since I chose teaching as a career, Labor Day has been doubly relevant for me: an annual return to the classroom-as-job-site marked by a national holiday in celebration of the organized workplace.

This year, however, after leaving a teaching position that just wasn’t working out, and subsequently spending the summer carrying hope from one interview to the next, I find myself in a bit of limbo. Which is to say: for the first time in over a decade, Labor Day looms, and I don’t have plans to be anywhere the day after.

The game’s not over yet — I’ve got two interviews tomorrow, in fact, and both seem promising. But the joy that I should have been feeling as we put my daughter on the bus for her first day of first grade today was tempered by uncertainty, and it’s been hard to put it aside to take on the next few drafts down the line.

In the name of killing the jinx, then, and because I really should get to bed sooner than usual in order to be prepared, today’s coversongs channel our complex package of cultural conceits about work: having it, hating it, needing it, loving it, and leaving it.

Don’t let the size of today’s list scare you, folks: huge and topically sprawling, it is nonetheless a carefully-selected and winnowed-down set of my favorites, from the crazed old-timey house party of Springsteen’s take on Pay Me My Money Down to the driving, countrified folk rock production Melissa McClelland brings to Springsteen’s own Factory, and from the delicate, precious indie retropop of Ephemera’s Manic Monday to Richie Havens‘ surprisingly powerful treatment of John Lennon’s Working Class Hero.

There’s something for everyone today; after all, we all have to pay the bills somehow. So whether you prefer the slow barrelhouse bluegrass of Alison Krauss covering Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 or the radio-ready bluesfolk of Mark Knopfler’s unfortunately named side project The Notting Hillbillies, Joshua James‘ quiet solo acoustic Modest Mouse cover or Jeb Loy Nichol‘s atmospheric hi-hat driven electro reggaefolk, the pulsing popfolk of Leslie King‘s Pink Floyd cover, the twangfolk of Peter Case doing Merle Haggard, or the true blue bluegrass of Salamander Crossing and Tim O’Brien, enjoy them all, and wish me luck at the interview table.

Of course, today’s list would be sorely incomplete without my favorite John Hartford song. If you missed ‘em the first time around, head back in time for a look at two great takes on In Tall Buildings, a perfect, bittersweet song of white collar life and lost summer, from Gillian Welch and The Jones Street Boys.

Oh, and as always: if you like what you hear here on Cover Lay Down, please consider purchasing CDs and other merch from the artists we feature. After all, if it weren’t for our patronage, the music makers would be out of a job, too.

ADDENDUM 10:05 pm: Seems the jinx-breaking worked — after a whirlwind day, I have accepted a teaching gig for next year! Thanks to all for the good thoughts and crossed fingers…

705 comments » | Alison Krauss, Bruce Springsteen, Ephemera, Jeb Loy Nichols, Joshua james, Leslie King, Melissa McLelland, Peter Case, Richie Havens, Salamander Crossing, Tim O'Brien