Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Joshua Powell & the Great Train Robbery - Alyosha

Joshua Powell possesses a drive of uncommon determination that transcends his relative youth and is likely abetted by it. That drive, which is transparent in his handling of all aspects (promotions, booking, etc.) of his band, Joshua Powell & the Great Train Robbery, and the exhaustive touring of more than 400 shows in more than 40 states between 2013’s Man Is Born for Trouble and the release of Alyosha (out October 16), is an unassailable reason Alyosha takes everything that has made Powell’s music promising from the outset and polishes his sound into a final product that refuses to settle for categorization as modest, mere folk rock with a scope limited between Indiana’s borders. It is obvious Powell wants his songs to reach a larger audience, and Alyosha makes a commanding case that its ruggedly persistent creator warrants such an audience.

On Alyosha, Powell takes his self-described brand of “psychedelic-tinged fearsome folk” and revels in the pursuit of a cohesive, often-ethereal sound that has more in common with shades of Bon Iver’s self-titled LP, Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues, Carrie and Lowell, and even War on Drugs’ Lost in the Dream than a typical acoustic guitar-based coffeehouse folk record. Along with Powell, co-producer Jonathan Class (who once again recorded and produced the record at his own Varsity Recording Co. in Anderson, IN) deserves a great deal of credit for the polish and clear vitality of the finished product. From the rippling groove of “Gunfighter Ballad of the 21st Century”, which hits my ears as almost a Neil Young and Crazy Horse-like tune relocated to a forest-strewn hall of mirrors and washed in scattered echoes while painting technicolor blotches on the glass, to the field recording of the hushed, lapping tide that soundtracks the nostalgic closer, “Left the Academy,”

Alyosha is a gorgeous-sounding record that wears its professional aspirations on its sleeve, especially for an independent outfit from the Hoosier state on a limited, crowd-sourced budget.
Some of Powell’s (and Alyosha’s) biggest strengths are in an ability to fashion a vivid, serene sound that is more than willing to take detours, shift tempos, and earn crescendos while staying rooted in his authentic, lyric-based songwriting and consistently pleasant and impressive vocal deliveries. He takes care in penning verses and melodies that don’t always reveal the often leagues-deep staying power on first listens (especially for audiences prone to corporate radio preferences or 30 second-taste-and-skip streaming), but his lyrical and musical choices always suit the song at hand, even when those choices step way beyond the shallow end of modest folk recording as they do on Alyosha. Powell has a knack for marrying prosaic lines with a literary bent and poetic deliveries – in the vocal melodies, instrumental arrangements and production. This marriage gives a song like “Indiana” it’s patient, powerful sweep, “Birth Control” it’s orchestral pop pulse that makes it feel not out of place alongside a handful of Broken Social Scene songs, and the War on Drugs-colored pursuit of E Street sweep that gives “Telekinesis” its rock ‘n’ roll radio high.

Perhaps Alyosha’s finest achievement, proving just how sublime and deliciously alive Powell’s music has become, is “Petrichor,” which almost sounds kindred to Beck’s “voice of God” vocal performance throughout the Grammy-winning Morning Phase, except layered with Sufjan-esque backing vocals while climbing towards the virgin peaks of imagined snow-capped vistas as the most recent Bon Iver and Volcano Choir LPs have done to widespread acclaim.

With adventurously-minded yet nuanced command of its mission, Alyosha is a record that should surprise current fans of Joshua Powell & the Great Train Robbery. For anyone else who is hearing Powell with fresh ears, the record should defy many assumptions of what to expect from a folk-based songwriter and musician from the Hoosier state who has been flying under the radar from town to town and is now primed to make his deserved blip.
Alyosha is out on October 16, 2015. Visit Joshua Powell & the GTR's website for details, or download the album on iTunes or Amazon.
Joshua Powell & the Great Train Robbery - "Gunfighter Ballad for the 21st Century"

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