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LITERATURE

 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Josh Small
Josh Small
Pop Faction Records

Rating: 7.5/10 ?


April 14, 2005
No souls were saved because of Josh Small's missionary work. It wasn't his intention to spread the Gospel of Christianity while on tour with emo-core striplings Stop It!! - a strange pairing to say the least. Formerly of You Are The Drum, Small set out to convert the unwashed to his bleak brand of minimalist bluegrass, Depression-era country and bluesy folk. Religion wasn't part of the equation, although Small doesn't shy away from the subject.

In the cycling banjo workout "Slightly Drunk," off his world-weary self-titled debut, Small, adopting the drawl of a Flannery O'Connor character, sings that it "Doesn't seem quite right singing songs for Jesus Christ/If your ship don't right itself, start singing for someone else." That might seem a little self-serving to Christians, but it's an honest and human reaction to feeling abandoned by his creator. There's not a hint of bullshit in his words and that's got to count for something.

Partly because of that, and partly because he plays banjo, acoustic guitar and mandolin with all the fervor of a Penecostal minister, Small seems "bound for glory" as his gospel-tinged, skeletal version of "Rock Island Line" goes. "Setting Up" is Small's bittersweet lament to the folly of youth and a no-holds-barred assessment of his self-destructive ways, with Small admitting he's still "Throwing his weight around" and "Setting up dominos" to push over, like fragile people that fall when we aren't holding them up. Set to elegant mandolin and acoustic guitar, "Setting Up" aches with a Southern Gothic melancholy that's almost too difficult to bear.

Then, as if in the throes of demonic possession, you'll feel your eyes roll back under their lids as Small launches into the acoustic slide guitar orgies of "Fall Motherfuckers Fall" and "2x2." Picking up his banjo, Small, after swearing about screwing up the intro and then laughing nervously about it, traces taut circles of intricate picking in the musty basement air of "Pushing Boulders." Hauled off to the drunk tank, Small then tiptoes around the swaying room in pizzicato fashion on the cock-eyed "Look At Me." Interrupted by intermittent bass drum thunder and the jarring sound of beer bottles crashing against a brick wall, the end of "Look At Me" goes from sweetly soused to angry. The mood swing is barely noticeable on the first listen, but it grows more palpable the more you hear it.

Authenticity is a tricky thing to gauge, especially when it comes to someone like Small, a new artist putting his own spin on traditional Americana. But he's on his way to getting it. That he chooses not to adorn it with excessive, odd-ball instrumentation, like, say, harmonica or accordion, probably works in his favor. Though raw and unkempt at times, like in "New Josh Anthem," and, with all due respect, riddled with Americana clichés, this is music that's more sophisticated than you'd expect from someone so young. The deft, lively playing needs no decoration. It stands on its own, unapologetic and not afraid of offending, as evidenced by the gratuitous use of the word "Fuck."

Gillian Welch comes to mind when you hear Small trading banjo and acoustic guitar licks. Only with Welch, you get a more comforting sound that's got the downy feel of a blanket; Small's Americana is worn down to the nub, like Will Oldham's. Who knows how many sheep Small gathered to his flock those nights when he and Stop It!! shared the same bill. His herd should blanket the rolling, fog-covered hills of Appalachia. If hardcore and this kind of lonesome, sparse Americana can co-exist, maybe there's hope for the Middle East.

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad

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