Mount Vernon Park
July 1, 2010
Despite a crowd that at first was more intent on enjoying the happy hour atmosphere of WTMD’s First Thursday Event held monthly in Mount Vernon Park in downtown Baltimore, folk-rocker Joshua James eventually succeeded in creating an intimate environment in which to present his highly personal and thought provoking songs.
Drawing heavily from his latest release, last year’s sublime Build Me This, James brought a simple stripped down touch to the live setting, with only his acoustic guitar and a set of keys to back him up. This allowed the power of James always stunning lyrics to stand front and center. And while they had to compete with the talkative backdrop of a crowd that had just gotten off work and was looking to get their happy hour drink on, James eventually won out, with a silent rapt crowd moving towards the stage and suggesting an environment that was less boisterous happy hour and more intimate coffee house.
James songs, no matter how he presents them, whether in a full-band setting similar to the line-up he used on Build Me This, or in a more sparse arrangement reminiscent of his debut album The Sun is Always Brighter take their power from his raspy voice that delivers his tunes with a screaming whisper. Much of James’ work deals with relationship and the difficulty they can cause in our lives. The songwriter admits he is fascinated by the beauty in darkness and depression, and these themes dominate his music. On this steamy, hot Baltimore evening these themes seemed to be given an unintentional boost of realism from the backdrop of Mount Vernon Church that hovered over James shoulder throughout his set.
James’ struggled through the early part of his set, fighting against a talkative crowd, but he eventually found his groove and created an intimate arena for his deeply introspective songs. His set showcased the seemingly unlimited potential of his songwriting skills, exhibiting the strength of his last album, while at the same time looking forward to what he might become.