Joseph Childress

There are a lot of singer-songwriters you’ll encounter in life. Picking up a guitar and baring one’s soul isn’t such a unique experience among songwriters, but once the layers are peeled, it’s the soul that makes the difference. There’s a line between mere player and troubadour. For Childress, that line gets crossed on by the time we hit the second song on his debut proper. “Footsteps” is an emotional thunderball, building slowly in the distance, but arriving with an alchemical heft that’s proof that Childress has ability far beyond his years. It also proves to be no outlier on an album drawn from a well of stark beauty.

His eponymous LP is distinctly rural, capturing his move to ranching in Wyoming in all its isolating depths. There’s dust on the strings when Childress opens on the timely “My Land,” an ode to hard grit love and living in a time of constant consolidation by the powers that seek to keep a thumb down on the last bit of dirt that holds any worth in this world. He evokes the wild rivers in the ramble of guitar that accompanies “Whispering Tide” – creating a song that’s reflecting the clear blue stretch of sky right back out of the water’s ripples. “10,000 Horses” is grey-hued and smoldering like fog on the creek, beer worked and worn like the lone seat at the bar filled in the afternoon.

He’s not merely crafting a country album here. This is an otherworldly Americana born of modern means, yet crafted looking for timelessness. Childress has harnessed the quiet closeness of recording in solitude, confessional and quavering, a quality that often comes from albums made in sequester. He’s taken that solitary confinement and channeled a deep woven sadness that only comes to light when the tape captures a complete lack of self-preservation. There’s a parallel to be made with the States-based work of Sufjan Stevens, though Childress handles it with far less preciousness than Stevens prefers. The two men are both looking to record desperation, but Childress is capturing the stark permanence of gas station lunches and Marlboro Reds on the cracked Formica.

Actually, in an unfortunately prescient coincidence the album also brings to mind Tom Petty’s WildFlowers in that album’s quieter moments. Like that treatise on divorce and self-examination, Childress takes time to run his hand over each wrinkle in the mirror and turn the inner sadness into a bittersweet reflection on what makes us all unable to fully smile even in the most joyous times. Childress seems to know that even when the candles on the cake are burning for you, its all just a future ache of absence that will forever tug with a tidal pull on our emotions. For his complete commitment to that feeling though, I’m grateful that Childress has sent this quiet nod across the bar.




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