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Joshua Hyslop: In Deepest Blue
by George Graham
(Nettwerk Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 12/9/2015)
The singer-songwriter genre seems to be rather nearly inexhaustible for the number of performers it brings forth. Despite the commercial music scene’s dominance by heavily-computer processed pop almost devoid of melody or harmony, folkies are just about everywhere to be found. The mostly acoustic singer-songwriters certainly do provide an alternative to the bulk of the commercial music output, though there are far too many folkies on the scene to be able to keep track of them all. And they certainly cover a wide range of sound and styles in the context of a seemingly simple and straightforward musical format. With such a plethora of artists it does take something to stand out.
This week we have a notable young Canadian singer songwriter who has just released his second album, Joshua Hyslop,whose new recording is called In Deepest Blue.
Within the singer-songwriter realm there are artists whose focus is on the lyrics, and others who for whom the sound and texture of the music is important. Joshua Hylop is one of the latter. Originally from Abbotsford, British Columbia, Hyslop is based in Vancouver. He has done a lot of touring and one of his publicity blurbs said that he has done his share of intimate house concerts, with extended conversations with the hosts and their guests, which have come to be lyrical inspirations for the new album. He spent time in Nashville, where he is said to have written a good deal of the album, but went back to Vancouver to record. Around the time of the release of Deepest Blue, he was scheduled to tour with singer-songwriter Vanessa Carlton.
Hyslop’s trademark is his almost whispery vocals and very laid back sound. Some might liken to him to what Nick Drake might sound like as a tenor. His lyrics are laconic and brief, impressionistic, often philosophical and frequently melancholy. The album’s title, In Deepest Blue seemed appropriate at times. But the pleasing sound of his vocals and tuneful writing make the music very appealing.
He appears with different combinations of instrumentation on the different tracks, with acoustic the dominant sound, though there is some pedal steel guitar, but this is hardly a country album. Hyslop himself plays some banjo and there is also mandolin evoking bluegrass. There are also a cellist, a violinist and a trumpet player among the roster of supporting musicians, plus different rhythm sections depending on the tune. Some of the tracks scale back to just acoustic guitar and vocal. But the arrangements are structured to emphasize the laid-back, contemplative style.
The CD opens with a piece that exemplifies the range of sound on the album, The Flood. Hyslop’s airy vocals are combined with a more upbeat arrangement that hints at bluegrass with the steel guitar thrown in. The piece has the typically melancholy lyrics that dominate the album. <<>>
More toward the acoustic folk side of things is Everything Unsaid. Again the lyrics are on the introspective side while the cello and violin provides the appropriate impression of sadness. <<>>
One of the more intriguing and laconic sets of lyrics comes on the song called Living and Dying, with its old-time sounding banjo. <<>> Until the piece goes instrumental and becomes a kind of upbeat dirge. <<>>
Let It Go is another of those sad songs. It’s seemingly about the end of a relationship, though it could apply to other situations of loss. It’s nicely done with a rhythm section. <<>>
Runs and Winds is yet another sad but articulate song that hints at a lot in few words. With its attractive acoustic musical setting. It’s another highlight of the album. <<>>
Last Train is a breakup song takes a somewhat different musical approach. It features a band with steel guitar, and is tastefully done. <<>>
Also with a bluegrass-influenced sound is piece called Gone. The lyrics are also about parting, but the sound is a lot more upbeat. <<>>
The album closes with Tonight another of Hyslop’s songs that combine sad lyrics with an appealing sound. <<>>
In Deepest Blue is a good name for the new CD by Canadian singer-songwriter Joshua Hyslop. Most of the lyrics are sad, while the tasteful musical setting and Hyslop’s soothing vocals gives the album a lot of charm. It’s a collection of melancholy songs that is very attractive and pleasing to listen to. Hyslop is a worthy lyricist having the gift of laconic poetry in his lyrics that do more hinting than describing, and accomplishing his work with fewer words than many folkies. But the album emphasizes the sound and sonic textures.
Our grade for sound quality is about an A-minus. The atmospheric studio sound goes well with the music’s mood, and the recording is not too heavily compressed so that one can hear some dynamic range and subtlety in the performances. However, there is a little too much reverb effect on Hyslop’s vocal, and it’s not always the best-sounding.
There are a multitudes of singer-songwriters on the scene these days, but Joshua Hyslop’s appealingly bittersweet new CD In Deepest Blue shows that there is always room for one more.
(c) Copyright 2015 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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