Build Me This

If Build Me This was a movie it would be shot in Cinemascope. The camera would sweep down on wide open expanses full of golden light, and yet, there would be figures slightly out of focus, lurking in pooled shadows. The drama in this epic tale would hinge upon those mysterious figures. Who are they? What are they trying to tell us?

You might find yourself questioning what Joshua James is trying to tell you after listening to the 13 songs on Build Me This. Just when you think you might have a clue about his storyline he throws a non sequitur your way. Is it an intentional diversion or an unintended detour? It’s useful to toss away linear thought when considering James’ lyrics. Open yourself to the concept of the song based on its atmosphere and the general feel of the words. Is Joshua James a mystic who tells tales with clues or is he someone still developing his lyrical skills? Can’t say, but what isn’t in question is his amazing ability to create intricate, intoxicating music.

Like a mountain range, Joshua James’ music rises to epic heights then plunges to dizzying depths. It has a timeless feel that pulls as much from Appalachian traditional music as from today’s rock. Banjo, mandolin, accordion, glockenspiels, upright bass, and pedal steel are as prominent as any of the traditional rock instruments. James seems torn between generations; even in the midst of his songs he rushes from one century to another in a matter of bars. “Coal Wars” begins as part gospel hymn, part union rallying cry, and then crashes into the 21st century with an electric guitar finale that will raise the hairs on your arms. “Magazine” begins as a rock ballad, then turns into a piano/fiddle driven waltz for its final 90 seconds. Rock, folk, and country music continues to mesh in this manner throughout the disc. You never can tell where a song is heading next.

Where does the 25 year old Midwestern songwriter get his inspiration? James’ parents are fans of classic rock, aka Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. That influence is heard in those monumental, explosive swoops of guitar and pounding drum refrains. You won’t miss the Neil Young and Dylan influences that help create that prairie atmosphere. There’s a doomed quality to most of these songs. Blood, hate, pain, and isolation are mentioned often. James’ voice is an odd thing, ragged yet, sweet. He has the capacity to rage and shriek and then collapse into a whisper. You wouldn’t be held accountable if you guessed him to be a much older man than he is. He seems to know so much more than what he reveals on Build Me This.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)