While mainstream Country Music seems to have turned its back to singer / songwriters as recording artists, the Alt-Country / Americana category must have its arms wide open, ’cause it is just jammed packed with them. It’s seems like there is at least one really good album from one of these artists released weekly. Of course (for the singer / songwriter types) this is a double edged sword (so to speak). That means that you are not getting air-play on mainstream country radio (even though you often have a truer country sound and better songs), and you are being mixed into widest music category in existence (that not everyone has access to on their local radio dial). It seems to me that to make it in this field, you have to possess something (other than strong songs and a well made album) that sets you apart from the crowd.
Joshua Black Wilkins is one of the many artists in that (so called) singer / songwriter pool. If his name is new to you, don’t feel bad, because I’m late to the game too. Reading through his bio, I was surprised to discover that he’s been recording since 1998. If his new one and 2013’s ‘Fair Weather’ serve as example of his recorded output, then I’ve missed some good ones.
Wilkins has a couple of qualities going for him that help differentiate his sound from his counterparts. First is his voice. Wilkins is one of those artists with a distinctive coarse, gravelly voice. His vocals sorta remind me of Eddie Vedder (with a dash of Tom Waits). Second is his guitars. Wilkins’ guitar players are mixed out front. Actually on ‘Fair Weather’ they were so out front that I sometimes felt that they almost got in the way of the tune, although it was a perfect mix on others.
Joshua Black Wilkins’ newest effort is titled ‘Settling the Dust’. For this one the guitars have been turned down a notch or two below the vocals. Even then, they sound just on the verge of feedback (which is a quality I love) and ready to break loose at any moment. But it’s the songs and singing that takes center-stage spotlight on this one. There are also a few country overtones on the album, thanks to the awesome pedal steel guitar heard in the background on many of these tunes.
Joshua Black Wilkins knows to write a story song, with the 10 cuts on the recording coming in really strong. The album opens with a tune about being on the road with no one around for his ‘Late Night Talks’. ‘Glass House’, ‘Trouble We’ve Made’ and the title cut are rockin’ numbers, while things slow down a bit for ‘Church on a Hill’, ‘Don’t Think that I’, and ‘I Wasn’t the One’. And the album ends just as strong as it starts with ‘Take My Time’ and ‘I Heard Your Whisper’.
‘Settling the Dust’ will appeal to a large audience, from fan’s of mainstream artists like Bruce Springsteen, to those of more obscure acts like William Elliott Whitmore. All the ingredients are here and with a little luck, this is one artist posed to break away from the crowd.
Do yourself a favor, go to Youtube and check out some of his tunes. If you like what you hear, buy this one. (I also highly recommend Joshua Black Wilkins’ Fair Weather album, which I have fell back in love with).
Sample and / or purchase the album here
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