The first time I listened to the self-titled album by Brother Joscephus and the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra, I imagined a Broadway show. In the show, a young man born in New Orleans comes to New York City. Through various trials and tribulations, he is encouraged, chastised, and set back upon the course by a Greek chorus of Mardi Gras Indians, sometimes ghostly in appearance, who represent his roots. The show concludes with the young man, not so young any more, returning to New Orleans to live out his life and die. That may sound like a downer of an ending, but remember that a New Orleans funeral is a joyous occasion, a celebration of a life well lived, and so it is here. The finale is the song, Bury Me in New Orleans, heard here.
This album, however, is not that show. But this is big music, and it would sound right at home in a Broadway musical, one I would love to see. This is rhythm and blues music, in the best sense. There is a core band of six musicians here, plus four horn players, plus four background singers. There is piano work reminiscent of Professor Longhair, gospelish vocal arrangements, a tight/loose rhythm section in that way that is unique to New Orleans, a church-like organ in places. And Brother Joscephus has the vocal chops to pull this off. It takes a powerful voice, that can express a range of emotions over full arrangements without ever forcing it, and Joscephus passes every test.
Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of all this is the fact that this is a debut album. This is a large band, with complex arrangements, and they mostly get it right on the first try. All of the musicians have something to do in every song, but there are stretches where some, or even most, of the musicians sit out, waiting for when the are needed, and their entrances are all the more powerful for it. I have often heard that one of the hardest things for a young musician to do is not play, but here the arrangements do not accommodate such youthful impatience. Another marvel is the fact that a band this large creates such an intimate sound on some of tunes. Both Can’t Help Myself and I Won’t Be That Man include the full band, but make quiet personal statements.
The album begins on a high note. A Child Shall Lead is a joyous and riotous expression of faith, although not the one the listener expects. Joscephus catalogs some of the troubles of the world, and says, “Don’t try to tell me that she’s born with sin/ Her smile could teach this world how to love again/ And a child shall lead the way.” This is the faith of a man who has just beheld the miracle of the birth of his first child. There is nothing religious about it, although it is a profound feeling, to be sure.
From there, faith and love wax and wane throughout the album. The two songs about New Orleans, Bury Me in New Orleans and Bon Temps Roulez, both have a spiritual dimension to them; they are as a much about a state of mind as they are about a physical place. O Moses is a plea for help during a crisis of faith. And the songs about relationships find the narrator offering or needing encouragement. So lyrically, Don’t Give Up On Love is a fitting way to close the album.
This is a debut album, after all. So there are a couple of things to improve upon in the future. Midnight Moon is a wonderful tune with a Tin Pan Alley feel to it. But it doesn’t fit musically with what has gone before. It sounds like it belongs on a different album, one I would love to have as well. Immediately following Midnight Moon, Don’t Give Up On Love closes the album. This is a well crafted tune, but after what has come before, it does not seem to match the energy and intensity of the earlier tracks. So, for me at least, the album ends on a bit of a down note.
So Brother Joscephus and the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra come roaring out of the gate with a strong debut. They set a very high standard for themselves, which they maintain almost to the end of the album. I know I will be eager to hear more from these guys in the future.
Brother Joscephus and the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra: A Child Shall Lead
Brother Joscephus and the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra: Bury Me In New Orleans
Listen to more songs by Brother Joscephus here.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Posted by Darius at 3:20 AM