I knew I was in for something unusual when Michael Phelps' simple, raw, but burning electric guitar dropped Control out of the clouds. Just as artfully laid, Daniel Joseph's vocals floated down, chafing to dig into the soul of the listener, beautifully offset by the rich groundlevel composition, a preternatural cipher for the entire expanded EP: four electric songs and five acoustic (four of them revamping the electric). Joseph is one of these guys, like James Isaak, who has a completely personal and powerful aesthetic threatening to resurrect the old days of Tim Hardin, Tom Paxton, Dave Van Ronk, and similar prototypical folkers. Joseph, however, takes an updated country rock approach brimming with the best the mid-west has to offer, then lays in a highly Chris Thompson-esque voice to do what Bruce Springsteen, John Cougar Mellencamp, Michael Stanley, and even the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band forsook in order to please the charts.
In short, he demonstrates that you can keep your soul and accomplish the same end. Each cut here is basic, nothing flashy or pretentious, centered in the guy's headily earthy sonorities. The Hooters, Georgia Satellites, and one or two other recent-ish ensembles with a good deal more clatter veered in this direction, making some truly righteous rock-cum-country fare, but they hadn't the grit, nerve, and gut-level soul this guy possesses. Heroes, for instance, is an urbanely prairie apocalypse with axehandler Phelps tossing in another wrenchingly satisfying lead line unadorned by the usual chartrock BS, boring straight into the frontal lobes.
The acoustic half of the disc is just as attractive, maybe more so. In it, Joseph's voice takes firm center stage, his range and control becoming all the more arresting. The lyrics are more emphatically crooned here because the guy writes with an uncompromising tack, unwilling to soft-sell what needs to be pondered. The re-take on Control is stunning, best displaying his command. I'm reminded of what Mick Hucknall did with Simply Red's Holding Back the Years acoustic single or what Nuclear Valdez accomplished with their non-electric Take Me re-cut, powerful as hell, digging so deeply that a tear of wonder formed in the listener's eye. As compelling as the quartet of electric opening cuts is, the acoustic steal their thunder, Joseph's iron control and perfect musicality pinning the listener's ears back as the singer nails each cut with magnificently honed ferocity. If the denuded Heroes doesn't take your breath away, something's seriously wrong. Call Forest Lawn, they'll sympathize with the dilemma, having a special arrangement and pleasant little alcove all your own and already waiting.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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