Boxing Nostalgic

Josh Joplin Band

Independent release, 1997

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


No doubt there are plenty of folks out there who, when they hear the name Josh Joplin, think “one-hit wonder.” Sure, his penetrating, thrummalicious 2000 single “Camera One” was the first independent release ever to hit #1 on the AAA charts… but what else has he ever done?

How about: released a dozen critically admired albums, EPs and compilations; co-founded three bands (Josh Joplin Group, Among The Oak & Ash, GpYr); written hit songs for other artists (“Blue Skies Again” by Jessica Lea Mayfield); authored a children’s book (Polar Bears Are Cool); and launched a second career as an award-winning independent filmmaker through his production company NarrowMoat. For starters.

Joplin has also recently emerged from a decade of focus on writing, producing and filmmaking to begin making music of his own again, starting with an ecstatically received Josh Joplin Group reunion show in his old home base of Atlanta in April 2022. His new album Figure Drawing, billed as “Josh Joplin and Among The Oak & Ash,” is due—well, sometime this fall. (Stay tuned.)

Before we move forward (and we will), though, we’re moving backward. Boxing Nostalgic was Joplin’s fifth full-length release as an independent artist, before his sixth (1999’s Useful Music) was picked up, reworked and re-released by Artemis Records, with “Camera One” being one of the main additions. With that background in mind, Boxing Nostalgic functions as at least a suggestion of what would lead the folks at Artemis to pull the trigger on the next go-round. Like Projector Head before it, the album features Joplin on vocals, guitars and some keys, Geoff Melkonian on bass and other stringed instruments, and Jason Buecker on drums.

The opening sequence suggests less “radio hits galore” than “aspiring Broadway producer” in its showmanship and flair. Opener “De Banlieue” is a 1:07 overture with muscular electric guitars and bashing drums as Joplin chants “Something brings me down” until he gets to the kicker: “I want to know what it is.” This bit bleeds directly into the strummy fast-paced acoustic number “Houses,” a positively rambunctious narration of some sort of existential crisis (“I still crave an answer / That doesn’t create a question / But am I the only one here / Who hasn’t learned their lesson”).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Parade” offers more of a hook, though it too sticks with Joplin’s preferred acoustic base; he’s a folksinger at heart, albeit one willing to build that sound up when the song calls for it. Near the end “Parade” breaks down to feature Lee Finlayson (baritone sax and trumpet) and Gerald McHugh (sax) in a rather New Orleans outro.

Following it come the title track (a rather mournful number featuring organ and cello), “Are You Afraid?” (an acoustic hip-hop number about Armageddon), and “Waffle House Homecoming” (an Edward Hopper-esque character study). “Smile” offers the next highlight, a lively folk-funk tune about the mask of happiness people tend to wear in public; it’s earnest and rather profound and one of the stronger numbers here.

The electric guitars come out to play for “Somewhere,” about the eternal search for identity and purpose, and then Allen Broyles—a future member of the renamed Josh Joplin Group—is featured on piano on the thrummy, atmospheric “Juniper.” Next highlight “Close” finds Joplin rapping urgently over aggressive acoustic riffing—at least until the mid-song shift to a slower gear of quiet contemplation. “And how do you catch faith,” sings Joplin during this sequence, “Does it float from the sky like a snowflake / And I wonder even more / If no one’s ever sure”… before it segues back to the hyper-aggressive opening bit; it’s weird and theatrical and more than a little wonderful, too.

The final three tracks are equally unpredictable. First “Viva Voltaire” offers a five minute-plus coffeehouse performance piece about Voltaire; heady stuff that no radio program director ever got within fifty yards of. Then “Beautiful” delivers an acoustic rave-up that veers between flirting with a paramour and spouting philosophy, before “Better Days” finishes up with a sweet, sad goodbye to a true love, again featuring Broyles on piano and Melkonian on viola. At the drum-driven crescendo Joplin announces that “The end is here”; indeed.

The most appealing thing about Josh Joplin at this stage in his now lengthy career is that he knows who he is: intense, cerebral, uncompromising. The one time that he did compromise, on “Camera One,” he had a monster hit… and one gets the strong impression that he loathed that experience. He certainly shows no inclination in that direction here; Boxing Nostalgic is a wild and wooly “coffeehouse poet does Broadway” production that offers not the smallest nod to commercial considerations. There’s nothing easy about it, but for the right listener in the right mood, it’s quite a ride.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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