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Monday, April 25, 2011

Echoreview: Pholksinger Josh & Friends' Watermelon Mountain

Released just last week, Pholksinger Josh and Friends' latest album Watermelon Mountain showcases the unique and varied talents of this "gangsta folk" musician and his comrades. Featuring a richer sound than that of his previous album Southern Dirt, Josh Rosenstein's time spent in the Carolina mountains has clearly had an influence on the band's already established harmonica and banjo-laced spoken word style. So what do these new tunes hold in store for their listeners?

The album begins with Bound to Die, a tune that flows like water behind Josh's speech-based rhythm. With the addition of a chorus of singers faintly chiming in, the song proves to be rather upbeat and quite enjoyable for a tune about death. A lovely instrumental melody with a sweet, rollicking sound bridges the gap before Pathetic Love Song I Said I Wouldn't Write plays. A newer take on the song that I've seen Josh perform many times, this track features a poppy yet touching sound that, when joined with Hannah Samet's melody in the background, makes this tune fuller and very solid. I love this one! Similarly, Hannah's backing tune in the love song Manifesto that appears later on in the album adds a well-placed feminine touch to the band's sound.

Following Ocmulgee, a minimalist school-themed tune that showcases a hint of the softness and maturity that has become an integral part of Josh's voice and that sets these songs apart, Cornbread & Butterbeans rolls in, giving listeners a traditional folk song sung by an ensemble of Josh and his musician friends. Then, harkening back to a sound much closer to that of his former album, Whiskey & Time proves to be much less composed than the rest of the tunes while still featuring the solid backing track that is characteristic of this record's style.

The title of the next track, Too Many Pretty Girls in Athens Town, just says it all. This song highly amuses me if for no other reason than the regular mentions of iconic places around the UGA campus. Familiarity like this is always quite a crowd-pleaser. Then the darker yet poppy New England Girl washes into the listener's ears. As Andrew Small's triumphant addition to the record, this tune features a mature sound that most definitely makes it one of my album favorites.

In the mood to dance? The very upbeat Lay Me Down had me moving my feet so much, I just had to get up and do a little jig in my room while listening to this one! Such fun. Then the sweet melody of Split End added a sense of calm to the record, growing and winding behind Josh's words as he spins yet another tale of love and loss.

In a rather bold move, Josh ends the album on a political note. He has always used his music to take a stand on the issues, and this time he's taking on budget cuts for education in Stand Up/ Fight Back! Although I would have enjoyed hearing the ensemble scream out on the track in the throes of passion along with him, this song lends a moderately strong conclusion to the record.

All in all, Watermelon Mountain proves that Pholksinger Josh's choice to solidify his newer sound with a full band was a great one. The album truly highlights not only Josh's knack for lyrical speech but the talents of his friends, especially those of Hannah Samet and Andrew Small, as well. Want to hear these tunes for yourself? Well, we'll let you know the next time Pholksinger Josh and Friends plays a show near you, and we'll also tell ya once these tracks make their way into iTunes too. Happy listening, folks!

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