Reputations can be hard to shake. Jerry Joseph, now based in Portland, Oregon, after bouncing around various western cities, sometimes is written off as a “hippie rocker” stemming from his days with jam band Little Women, or dismissed as noisy and raw from his more recent work with power trio the Jackmormons. The common problem has been that the songs, clearly Joseph’s strength, often were buried beneath either the noodling or the raucous intensity.
Enter Pete Droge, who set out to present the Jerry Joseph he knew and admired, a remarkable songwriter and fascinating spirit. Everything Was Beautiful, produced by Droge, is a great record that slows Joseph’s attack down a bit and strips the songs back to their roots-rock essentials.
The standout opening cut, “Good Sunday”, sets the tone. Structured around a mile-wide groove and the layered guitar work of Joseph, Droge and Peter Stroud (of Sheryl Crow’s band), the track bears a classic soulful feel but with a thoroughly modern sense, liberally using drum loops (as do most tracks here).
Joseph’s Catholic upbringing begets oodles of symbolism in these songs, which explore themes of faith, sex, redemption and death (“1936 Jesus”, “Joan Of Arc”, “Mary Star Of The Sea”). In the hands of a less capable writer, such material could backfire, but this record works as Joseph bares his soul with soul. Most affecting of all is the stunning ballad “Beautiful Child Of God”, which closes the album. At age 39, Joseph has finally found his voice by relying on his best weapon — his own songs.