Hurts so good
Though he’s signed to a major label, Joshua James is no longer trying to be a mainstream success. Thankfully, the authenticity that appeared in patches throughout his last record, The Sun Is Always Brighter, steers his latest.
The closest he comes to radio pop is “Magazine,” which is musically light but lyrically heavy. In fact, all his lyrics are weighty: James fills songs with images of burning boats and burning letters, blood on the floor, deep incisions and cancer. He delivers in a raspy voice that sounds wounded at all the right times (like on the tragic “Lawn Full Of Marigolds” when he sings, “To my ma I’ve failed you / To my pa I blamed you / And to God I have shamed you again”).
Though the sound is bigger than a folk record, the dark lyrics are wrapped in familiar Americana. The instrumentation is meticulous—nothing sounds out-of-place, especially the aching pedal steel, which is used with remarkable restraint. Build Me This is convincing from its opening line—“I ain’t cutting my hair till the good lord comes”—through its solemn last words: “I’ve given up.”