Soundchecks Music Reviews
Vida Music VMCD 006
review by Andrew Darlington
Comparisons are odious. And Joe's probably already hacked-off with the 'great lost Nick Drake' album tag. The title-track fades in from nothing, building on graceful discord before dissolving into stinging acoustics buoyed by mystically airy string arrangements. Only Joe's refreshingly roughened vocal delivery and the resonant double-bass compensate for those immaculately tasteful string quartet sections, reconciling roots with a glistening spin-free modernity. All indicating that "his path" - as he phrases it, "is way beyond the border." The Castle alludes to the 'sweet medicines' of cocaine, wine, and mythological archetypes from Katherine Hepburn to kings and queens, where woodwinds lurk in entrancing weaves that surge and ebb around smoky vocals.
Then This Time Won't Last Forever takes "photographs of urban landscapes," with the uncertainty of his relationship expressed with smooth mid-tempo assurance. This is Joe Wilkes' first album, although there were a couple of more pop-EP releases with his former band - Casino Pil, before he drew up his 'Ten Limits' manifesto (inspired by the Dogme95 movies). A principled stand defined by real organic instruments and no studio mix-trickery. Ten tracks that might at first suggest John Martyn, or the neat Bert Jansch fingering of Infra Red, or... yes, Nick Drake. But after a couple of plays, no - they all just sound like Joe Wilkes, spinning the kind of poetics that have you hunting for the lyric sheet. Only there isn't one. So you concentrate.
These are songs made of enigmatic secrets and oblique tales, painted shadows and time-passages. He's a vagabond heart, a smudged boho, a darkly tousled troubadour. "I am a liar, I am a thief" admits the 'spotlight kid'. Then harmonica, clarinet and giggles wend into Too Late To Pray, a more paranoid political take on the USA, evolving out of his parents' hammer-and-sickle inclinations into an edgy need to just smash something. Yet without the need for any mood-interrupting heaviness...
Finally, Tomorrow Whatever is a bryter layter take on summer in the city, where the traffic crawls like a river, with possibly dark undercurrents swirling in its throwaway 'Hey, whatever'. The 'great lost Nick Drake' album? - Naw, more, perhaps, with acoustics being the new black, this might yet prove to be the acceptable face of James Blunt.
for PIGASUS Press