Joe Walsh “Sweet Loam” Album Review

Last evening I was graced with the extreme pleasure of sharing the stage with mandolinist Joe Walsh. While my duo partner and I were backstage warming our hands and tuning up, I had the absolute joy of picking out a few tunes with him, which (as often happens in this circle of musical folks) led to Joe sitting in for a few tunes during our set at my favorite local spot. To make things even better, I got to sit and watch him play with the real reason he was there, The Coloradas. In talking backstage we spoke about the music writing thing and a joke about tossing a 50 in a CD case for a review. Today I had the urge to check out Joe’s second solo debut and I have to say, that I should be the one forking over an extra 50 bucks to him, because this album is simply marvelous.

It’s extremely evident, right off of the bat, how much thought and dedication went into these arrangements yet the record is exceptionally listenable and has a sublime texture to the sound throughout the 11 tracks. There are a lot of parts on many of the songs, yet it is very obvious that this is a mandolin virtuoso’s solo effort. The instrument manages to really shine through the mix and take center stage even when playing harmony or rhythm parts. The lines that Joe plays throughout are light, airy and really just float over the rest of the arrangement. Truly memorable and remarkable.

With takes on standards like “Mole in the Ground” and Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” an entirely new life and depth is breathed into the songs. The playing is incredibly thoughtful in these tributes to the past. A testament to how great music can be when a group of fantastic musicians pay homage to what came before them. Everything from every solo and note to the white space in between is exquisitely refined and each player complements the other perfectly.

“Emily’s Welcome to Portland” is a great story song stretched over those aforementioned incredible arrangements. Proving this this man’s talent doesn’t simply end at his instrument and paints him as a really great songwriter. This one had me smiling all the way through.

Fortunately for us as listeners, we also get a hefty dose of original compositions from Walsh in this collection. With the obvious bluegrass and celtic influence, instrumental songs such as “Bob’s Bucket” and “Sunday Morning Reel” are true standouts on the record (well, actually all the songs are rather “stand out” in my opinion). Walsh’s mandolin again takes flight for clean lines and a few head turning fills while the rest of the band really keeps the pace and lays the ground work for Joe to paint his craft all over a really beautiful canvas of sound.

Walsh’s vocal is acutely approachable and rather pleasing to the ears. The entire feel of the record is very warm, inviting, and comfortable. I just feel good listening to this work. This record is a wonderful trip through the bluegrass landscape touching on fiddle tune type arrangements, contemporary takes on traditional tunes, and truly incredible performances of wonderful original songs. A must buy for any fan of the folk/bluegrass fusion genre.

Joe’s record “Sweet Loam” is available on bandcamp at: http://joewalsh.bandcamp.com/

Or check out him online for dates, bio, and all the goodness at:  http://skinnyelephantmusic.com/

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