Live Review: Jerry Joseph + Casey Neill, Water Rats, London – 5th December 2023

Photo by Olivia Lacey

Defining the troubadour spirit, Jerry Joseph is a force of nature. Frequently away from his home in Portland, Oregon, he thrives on playing live music to his appreciative audience, constantly touring the US with his band The Jackmormons and regularly crossing the Atlantic. This was his fourth visit to London in eighteen months and the mission this time was to bring songs from his recently released album, ‘Baby, You’re The Man Who Would Be King’.

Sliding alone and unannounced onto the stage, Joseph opened with two of his older songs. ‘Beautiful Child of God’ was an impassioned, almost religious meditation while ‘White Dirt’, with its spoken lyrics, was well-suited to the cabaret-style setting. Joseph gave the song a lengthy introduction before reminding himself of his tendency to talk too much. He soon relapsed but, engaging raconteur that he is, no one seemed to mind.

Dispensing with his beanie-hat and saffron scarf, and confessing to a bout of unlikely nerves, Joseph brought on to the stage his friend Casey Neill who had played a fine opening set with songs like ‘Meteor Shower’ and a tribute to Marianne Faithfull, ‘How Beautiful Am I?’ from his new release ‘Shooting Up Flares’. He played acoustic guitar and an electric borrowed from the watching Alex Ellis, otherwise known as the highly-regarded Our Man in the Field.

Photo by Chas Lacey

Introducing the new album, Joseph commented wryly that the harmonica he’d played on several tracks would not be featuring this evening. Amusingly he explained this was above Neill’s “pay-grade” but was possibly also due to Joseph’s life-long reluctance to own a “neck-harness thing.” The two launched into the title-track, a Springsteen-like song capturing the New York feel that Joseph was seeking when he finally got to record there.

The pace slowed for the introspective ‘Am I OK?’, an infectious country melody masking a tale of rehab and helplessness. Turning such doubt into triumph, ‘The War I Finally Won’ is also the title of a recent novel, Joseph remarking that he often takes inspiration for his songs from films or books before adding his own lyrics.

Onstage came Ella Spencer, a singer-songwriter from Suffolk now based in London. With appearances in Portland alongside Jerry Joseph, she has appeared at Maverick Festival. Also giving vocal support was Alex Ellis alongside fellow Man In The Field member Henry Senior on dobro.

Photo by Chas Lacey

Two more older songs followed – ‘Late Heavy Bombardment’ from 2017’s ‘Weird Blood’ and ‘Happy Book’ (2012) before Joseph returned to his new record with ‘20 20 Moons’ and ‘Book Burning’, a cri-de-coeur written while in Scotland.

Photo by Olivia Lacey

Introduced as a centre-piece of the album was ‘Carmen Miranda’, a song about the film and TV star of the 1940’s and 50’s. With its references to Muhammad Ali, Joseph was prompted to ask who was considered the most famous British boxer, receiving some predictably amusing responses.

Photo by Chas Lacey

After this light relief came a torrid but towering ‘Dead Confederate’ from ‘The Beautiful Madness’ (2020), produced by Drive-By Trucker Patterson Hood and here featuring Senior’s dobro to great effect. Told from the viewpoint of a torn-down statue, the song was written in the wake of Black Lives Matter. After another grim tale of drug cartels and human-trafficking and with the set running at over two hours, there was just time to close in more optimistic mood. Returning to the new album. ‘Loving Kindness’ was a powerful and redemptive end-piece for the ensemble to lift spirits before sending us out into the night.

About Chas Lacey 21 Articles
My musical journey has taken me from Big Pink to southern California. Life in the fast lane now has a sensible 20mph limit which leaves more time for listening to new music and catching live shows.
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