An authentic New York record from the Oregon Hall of Fame inductee.
Jerry Joseph’s prolific output of over 400 songs and his extensive touring tell their own tale – this is a troubadour who loves to communicate through his music and who sees no boundaries in doing so. A sometime teacher in an Afghan rock school – the musical rather than the Himalayan kind – Joseph has enough stamps in his passport to rival Sir Michael Palin.
Consider then, the impact of a global pandemic on a man who over four decades has seen the world as his muse, reflected in songs with titles like ‘Istanbul’ and ‘Swimming to Phuket’. With no touring possible in support of his Patterson Hood-produced album ‘The Beautiful Madness’ – described by Joseph as “the album of my career” – he was one of the first to take to the airwaves with his virtual concerts, “Jerry Joseph’s Happy Book”. Drive-By Truckers had backed Joseph on that album and appropriately he then took to writing new material in a vintage trailer parked in the driveway of his Portland, Oregon home.
The fruits of these sessions, coupled with his long-standing desire to make what he calls “a New York record” led to Joseph teaming up with producer Eric Ambel. The two had first met in 2018 and when approached in 2021, Ambel agreed that these songs would enable Joseph to realise his ambition. With a crack team of some of the Big Apple’s finest players, the album was recorded at Ambel’s Brooklyn studio.
The nine songs have an immediate appeal though there’s much introspection, as with so much of the world’s creative output during the pandemic. First up, Joseph charts his personal battles in ‘The War I Finally Won’. Opening with a Springsteen-like burst of harmonica, the song rampages like it’s Southside Johnny and The Boss back in Asbury Park, no doubt helped by having The E-Street Band’s Charles Giordano on board. Next, ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ reflects the album’s cover design of a skull bearing a crown, with its outro refrain “we’re gonna get through this” promising triumph over disaster.
Despite his lifelong reluctance to acquire a “harmonica neck holder thing”, Joseph puts his harp to maximum use throughout the album, from that opening pair of tracks to ‘Canadian Boyfriend’ and ‘Loving Kindness’. There’s country fiddle too, from Joe Flood on ‘Am I OK’. It may have been this rootsy feel that prompted Eric Ambel to set the recording studio up with a campfire ambience, though this plan was quickly dropped in favour of a rock and roll vibe once Joseph brought his considerable presence to proceedings. Delighted with the results, Joseph says of the producer “I don’t know what he does, but it sounds like NYC to me”. With exemplary playing throughout, this is a record that Joseph can be proud of – perhaps even the album of his career.