Restless Soul: Why Joshua James might give it all up for a life making soap
Joshua James may have just produced a deeply personal record of devastating songs, but don’t count on him remaining a musician...
Joshua James’s fifth, latest and best album, My Spirit Sister, is many things, and among them are transfixing, beautiful, soul-baring and shattering. Altogether it’s as haunting and powerful a dissection of a relationship in crisis as Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, but sung by a man with a voice as celestial as Jeff Buckley’s. The album is all the more deeply and starkly affecting for so clearly being about James’s marriage. He readily admits that he and his wife Emily went through a “difficult, very emotional experience” a couple of years ago, which the record autopsies.
Musically it taps into the vein of ghostly, stripped-down Americana mined by such looming figureheads as Neil Young and Johnny Cash on his American Recordings series with Rick Rubin, and more latterly by the likes of Fleet Foxes and Conor Oberst. The dark, bruised mood is established by the desolate opening track, Broken Tongue. To hushed acoustic guitar and a snare drum that snaps like a whip, the first words James intones are: ‘I wish someone would just sleep here over to check I’m still breathing.’ There isn’t a shaft of light until the closing Blackbird Sorrow nine songs later, when he allows: ‘I think we’re going to shake this dark shadow.’ And even then it’s followed by a lacerating dagger: ‘Though I feel a bit strange about her giving her love to another.’