I've never put out to sea, but I have a notion or two as what it might be like...out on a watertight (most of the time) vessel. The anticipation of the journey to start, stars and determination in the eyes of the captain and crew. Nights and days blur together. Infighting, mutiny, tense relations in close quarters. Murder, mourning, and heartache. Resolution. The arrival at a destination — docked in a port or at the bottom of an ocean.
Let's get this out of the way right up front: Josh Dillard is a fine, fine songwriter. His first two efforts The Kate EP (2007) and The Whale And The Sea (2011) are both evidence of that. The former showed initiative. The latter, growth lyrically and structurally. Both albums struck with moments of the true touch in the listener's heart of hearts. Both reached for high ideas. They came successively closer to running their course, feeling incomplete here and there.
On his latest release, The Bright Light Of Shipwreck, Josh Dillard has grown his beard long, set on what's ahead with sharp eyes and a focused heart. Growth has turned the way of confidence. This confidence leads to courageous vocals and an eclectic album still true to Dillard's alt-country roots. The easy-listening, soul tinged "Ever Since You've Been Gone" and "In My Dreams" offer the possibility of the mending of a hurting heart. The standout "Let 'Em Fall" is a thick R&B number running deep with history...a coming-to-terms with trust and moving on.
The album hits its stride with "There's Been Blood," a pure alt-country number full of subject matter familiar to Dillard's music. We become eavesdroppers on stark conversations with the others on the ship. The calling out and burying of past hurts with grace. The almost vitriolic confrontation of "Fox With It's Tail On Fire." The influence of Dylan, Springsteen, and Coldplay become apparent in the second half of the album and are wisely kept at bay. They inform but do not decide. Shipwreck is smart, not clever. The risks taken are calculated by a navigator headed somewhere. Shipwreck is honest and unguarded. What's more, it's complete.
But, a voyage can't be complete without a beginning. The starry-eyed crew and determined captain can't be left behind. The album opener "Every Valley Will Be Filled" is a hopeful, almost singalong full of words taken straight from John The Baptist. The song serves as a reference point, it seems, to the journey of The Bright Light Of Shipwreck. It's not forgetting where it started, and the promises of where we'll end up. The truth that we might sail right to the bottom of it all, and surface better than before.
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