A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Roberta B. Schwartz
Every now and again an artist emerges from the crowded field of contemporary singer/songwriters and manages to stretch the boundaries of what we call acoustic music. Armed with a powerful guitar, husky, impassioned vocals and a pedigree in rock that reads like a who's who, Joel Cage is a force to be reckoned with on the acoustic scene.
Energy, passion and intelligently written, sensitive lyrics do not explain it all. Cage is a musician's musician. He began playing guitar at the age of five and worked his way into Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes'touring band. He has trained with Steve Van Zandt and jammed with Springsteen. After leaving the Jukes, Cage set out on his own. He has collaborated on a variety of projects with Ellis Paul, Laurie Sargent and Slaid Cleaves, among others.
So what does this all add up to? Rock with an acoustic center, or acoustic music with a rock edge? It doesn't really matter. What *does* matter is that this is work that demands your attention for its sheer musicality. This guy can play guitar, rock your soul and touch those secret places deep within all at the same time. Cage is that good.
Last Hard Road is Joel Cage's debut cd, recorded in his bedroom on an eight track tape recorder. Cage accompanies himself here on all instruments - both acoustic and electric guitars, bass, keyboards, and percussion.
Stand and Fall opens the recording with riveting guitar and angry, powerful vocals. This is an anthem for all those who have met failure armed only with the grit and determination that drives them forward.
The title song, Last Hard Road, describes a dark night of the soul. Cage accompanies himself with a beautifully understated acoustic guitar line and some nice percussive touches. This is a lovely, introspective tune.
From the Farthest Reaches is the album's best cut. Cage pulls out all of the stops on this one: a driving, big guitar sound, sharp songwriting, a catchy melody that is hard to get out of your head, and a subject we can all relate to. It's all about love, faith and remaining steadfast in all that we believe in. This is the song you want to play over and over and over again.
A cover of Eric Clapton's Bell Bottom Blues shows off Cage's mastery of the electric guitar and elegant vocal phrasing.
If you like your acoustic music to rock a bit, listen to the soft rock sound of A Little Faith. Driven by an electric guitar and a variety of percussion instruments fueling the beat, this one will get you up on your feet.
Last Hard Road is an outstanding achievement. It is clearly a labor of love made on a shoestring budget - self-produced and self-recorded, with all of the instrumentation supplied by Cage himself. The final product is a beautifully realized and musically sophisticated work. Joel Cage marries the soulful searching of the singer/songwriter to the heart of contemporary rock like no one else. It's a winner.
Edited by Kerry Dexter