Billy Joseph is More Surprise than “Mystery”

Billy Joseph. Photo courtesy of Billy Joseph

Singer/songwriter hits all the right notes.

Immediate thoughts that came to mind when listening to Billy Joseph’s “Ride on the Mystery”: Who is Billy Joseph? Why am I just hearing about him now? Is this legitimately the best album of 2017 so far?

The answer to the first two questions, is sheer ignorance. Mea culpa. Other than that—no hyperbole here—welcome to one of the year’s best albums.

It’s just so cohesive. “Mystery,” combines and crystallizes everything about the iconic Laurel Canyon sound with tinges of folk, blues and classic rock while sounding every bit as vital and modern as those dinosaurs cannot. Joseph avoids the problem of current singer/songwriters by eschewing a carefully crafted persona (read Swift, Taylor) and letting the album speak to who the artist is. In that regard, he’s closer to Jeff Buckley in style than anything else.

Vocally, Joseph is a revelation. He croons like Springsteen when The Boss isn’t trying so hard to be The Boss. Pair that with a stridence akin to Billy Bragg, a nice falsetto that conjures Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, and soars on chorus like vintage era Tom Petty.

It’s fitting that you hear the din of a record player to start the album. It feels lived in, instantly recognizable and ready for repeat plays. Definitely all killer, no filler.

“Keep Moving Forward” kicks off the album channeling “Sticky Fingers”-era Rolling Stones and the best of ELO. The gospel organ and sermon on the mountain determination on “Without You” makes the song a declaration instead of a plea. It’s the ability to shift so effortlessly in sound that gives the album plenty of listens. “Without You” echoes vintage Tom Petty and should be on every playlist for breakups while the horns and croon on “Jade” could’ve been a Springsteen track on “The River.”

“Violet Still” stands out as the album’s best cut which says a lot for a ballad break through a litany of rockers. While I may reference this song as having early Elton John-era strings with Ryan Adams soulful acoustics, make a bigger note that Joseph had the genius to blend the two seamlessly.

The U2 chime of “I Want Everything for You” and the specificity on “New York Way” pair nicely with the title track and album closer, “Ride on the Mystery.” There, Joseph saves his last salvo by jamming ‘til fade out.

“Mystery” is an effortless blend of song styles and daring choices that succeeded on all fronts. The craftsme- like attention and love for detail elevate the album from good to great. There isn’t a false note on here. Put the album on, go for a drive and get lost in the wind. Thank me, later.


JP Spence

JP Spence is a writer, screenwriter, and improviser living in Los Angeles. He previously served as the media critic for the Topanga Messenger and as Editor-In-Chief for the LA Valley Star. You can find Josh @JP_Spence on twitter or at any press screening.

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