It’s strange sometimes how the stars align. Jerry Joseph is a jobbing musician with around 30 albums under his belt but he’s hardly a household name. He has his fans and one of them turns out to be Patterson Hood of The Drive By Truckers who produced this album. That’s not all however as Hood enrolled the rest of The Truckers to play on the album (using a nom de plume, The Stiff Boys) while ex Trucker Jason Isbell (another fan, calling Joseph a triple threat – “a great singer, songwriter and performer”) joins in as well. Who knows if it was this star-studded line-up which prompted Joseph’s first official UK album release but we should all be grateful that the album, with all its righteous rage and acute observations, is getting its 15 minutes of fame.
In addition, there’s a serendipity around the album as Joseph rails against many of our current woes. Currently a native of Portland, he’s been in the thick of recent protests but several of the songs here, although recorded before Black Lives Matter exploded, address many of the issues relating to racism in the US. Central to this is his song Dead Confederate, the starkest number on the album which features Joseph along with Isbell on slide guitar. Eerily prescient, Joseph imagines the thoughts and memories of a Confederate statue, still adhering to his white supremacist values and scornful of those who wish to pull him down. It’s a powerful song with vivid imagery but Joseph skilfully undermines the so-called historical importance of such monuments as the statue, while relating antebellum racism, turns out to have been erected by racists in the 20th Century.
Standing tall alongside Dead Confederate is the dense and claustrophobic diatribe of Sugar Smacks. A deadly melange of fuzzed out rock with Death Valley banjo and kaleidoscopic keyboards, it has Joseph in an apocalyptic mood as he raps and rages against a dystopian world. As he rants about injustices around the world, celebrates heroes and cites so many instances, good and bad, that propel him, one would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the song’s visceral propulsion. It’s like a contemporary version of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl.
Surrounding these towering achievements, Joseph still aims and hits high. The opening Days Of Heaven, aside from its nod to the Malick movie, finds Joseph writing in the Mexican wilderness, a gun at his side in case any drug gangs get too close. San Acacia is like a Sam Peckinpah movie come to life while Good rises from swamp rock roots and Eureka limps along wonderfully as Joseph recalls the aching country rock of Chris Gaffney. Finally, there’s Joseph’s farewell to David Bowie on the sweet string infused Black Star Line which has echoes of Lou Reed threaded within and which eventually bursts out like a Roman candle with an incendiary guitar solo until an astoundingly well managed closing piano.
Having never heard of Joseph before, The Beautiful Madness is quite astounding. Kudos then to Patterson Hood for backing the man and hopefully this will raise his profile. It might seem daunting, but if this album hits you then there’s a wealth of back catalogue to explore. Mind you, Joseph is eclectic, but do dive in. In the meantime keep your fingers crossed for a purported Euro tour in 2021 and please have a look at this in depth interview on Americana UK where Joseph talks about the album and also the work he does across the globe in war torn regions.