I had the opportunity to catch Jerry Joseph out of his element recently. It was an unnaturally hot day in Nashville for this early in May as I walked into City Winery. Set at the back of the upstairs lounge were three stools and more instruments than I expected to see for a 7pm Monday show. Jerry Joseph was in town to play a few low-key shows and he was being joined by artist/all-star producer/sideman extraordinaire Will Kimbrough and Great Peacock lead singer Andrew Nelson for a night of story and song. I have been a fan since I first heard 2002’s Conscious Contact but have drifted in and out of paying attention in the seventeen years since that albums release so it was great excitement as I waited for Joseph to take the stage.
He strolled out, looking like a rock and roll Anthony Bourdain, took the center stool and waited for Nelson and Kimbrough to settle in before launching into one of those songs that just stops you in your tracks. Big bold vocals and imagery that grabs on and refuses to let go. Will Kimbrough joins in on Mandolin and the song is all the better for it. Andrew Nelson takes the next slot with a song about getting drunk and as you can imagine, it seemed out of place. I know it’s a songwriter’s round but still you gotta read the room sometimes. Will Kimbrough knows the deal and gifts us “I like it Down Here” off of his new album which just serves to reiterate why he is in such high demand for his talents. Where else can you find a line such as “I want a woman with a face like a question mark”? Nowhere but here my friends. You could see the pleasure on Jerry Joseph’s face and he complimented the effort with “that’s a great fuckin’ song”. Joseph mentioned that his producer (Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers) wanted him to play some new songs and he told a story of Tick, South African slang for meth, before he played a song of the same name. All three artists played guitar on it and Joseph attacked the vocals with a fury the upstairs lounge at City Winery hasn’t experienced before. It was visceral, compelling and I fully expected it to be the highlight of the evening but that would not prove to be true. Nelson plays “Rattlesnake” about addiction and it makes up for the song about getting drunk. Will and Jerry both join in and their respective talents take an already good song and make it better. Joseph plays another song he wrote in the middle east and played for a Syrian tribal leader about his favorite terrorist Cochise.
Another striking musical moment, the song featured Will Kimbrough on slide guitar, and showcased the rage and fury Joseph is able to conjure almost effortlessly. Kimbrough tells a story of the 1971 lynching of Michael Donald in Mobile, Alabama and the subsequent trial that bankrupted the Klan. “Alabama(For Michael Donald)” told from the victim’s point of view is brutal, chilling and may frame the ignorance and needless violence in a way that you don’t have to try very hard to comprehend. It is one of those songs that is absolutely stunning and impactful in every way. As a native Alabamian who struggles often with not just the legacy but the future of my home state this song left me reeling.
How does Joseph follow that you ask? He mentioned that he wasn’t going to play the song he was about to play until Will played his. “Dead Confederate” will be on the new record and he was encouraged to write a song by Patterson Hood that did not feature himself as the focus of the tale. Drawing inspiration from his surroundings and events in the news Joseph wrote the song from the point of view of the Confederate monuments that are being torn down. Between this and Will’s song I am not sure if I have ever heard a one-two punch like this. Masterful, absolutely masterful in its originality and delivery. Joseph captures and channels the rage and how the shackles of ignorance have continued to enslave generation after generation in a four minute song. Kimbrough’s “I’m Not Running Away” is a nice song given the acoustic treatment. His vocals shine more with just a guitar and I like this version more than the album version. “Giraffe” by Joseph, inspired by an incident while he was trying to kick a particularly nasty habit, is jangly and wonderful. Kimbrough finds space and the guitar interplay between the two seems overwhelmingly natural.
I can only say I am beyond excited for the new record given the absolute stellar quality of songs and the amazing performance Joseph gave the crowd that night. This was one of those “only in Nashville” moments locals are so fond of. Multiple, varied talents across genres on one stage at the same time. Sometimes it’s a train wreck but sometimes it is a moment of magic with all things converging at the right time. This was one of those nights. Anchored by the talents of Joseph, Kimbrough and Nelson the evening is one for the books. Check out Jerry Joseph, here: Interview: Jerry Joseph on Recent Iraq Trip, Current Solo Tour Dates, Upcoming Album; Will Kimbrough, here: Interview: Will Kimbrough on “I Like It Down Here,” Alabama History and “To Kill A Mockingbird”; and Great Peacock, here: REVIEW: Great Peacock’s New Release “Gran Pavo Real” Provides Nashville Catharsis