By Alessandro Improta
Joshua Strauther is no stranger to the Provo music scene. Probably most recognizable to Provo music fans as the mustachioed keyboard player in Mimi Knowles’ band from awhile back, Strauther has stepped into the limelight as Joshy Soul, releasing his first album as a solo artist. I’ll be upfront about this: I love soul music! Maybe my excitement at having another great soul musician in the area – especially one this vintage in his delivery – will skew your perception of the quality of the album. I apologize in advance for my natural bias, but that is a right that I reserve. So let’s get to it.
Josh’s album, Vintage Dreamin’, is absolutely fantastic. Not perfect, but great. My primary criticism is mostly lyrical. Some of the lines can feel forced – like they were written just to rhyme instead of written to get a point across. When this kind of music was owning the airwaves back in the day, the lyrics were overly simplistic and pretty cliché. So in that regard, Josh’s lyrical style is, indeed, vintage. But I’m just not sure it can be pulled off today like it used to be.
The first track, “Make My Day” is full of cliches like this: “She brightens up my sky just like the sun / From the moment we first met I knew she was the one.” Sure, it is a nice sentiment, but I’ve heard both of those lines a hundred times. Again, not dismal writing, but just not original enough to be of note or deep enough to have an impact. It might feel like a bigger issue than it actually is simply because the lyrics don’t even come close to matching the quality of the instrumentation on this album.
Now that we have some of the negatives out of the way, let’s focus on just how great this album really is. First of all, Josh’s voice. It is fitting for the vintage vibe he is going for: thick, rich, and with just enough natural character to be reminiscent of great soul singers of days past. Josh’s voice is best showcased in the track “Sweet Moonlight,” a 50’s style doo wop ballad – the kind of thing I would imagine Marty McFly’s parents slow dancing to at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance in Back to the Future. The simple arrangement really allows Joshy Soul’s voice to cut through the mix while showing off a sweet spot in his vocal range that is a little lower than where he would normally sing.
Josh has done a wonderful job of surrounding himself with great musicians who are really able to bring his vision to life on this album. I don’t know what it is about a good horn section, but having one is a game changer, and Joshy Soul definitely has one. Just listen to the first 24 seconds of “Sole” and you’ll be in agreement with me. When it’s their time to shine and carry the motif, they do a remarkable job. What is even more remarkable is how they are able to sit back in the mix and fill out the sound without drawing attention to themselves. This is masterfully done in “Darlin’ Darlin’” throughout the pre chorus and chorus.
As any fan of soul music will tell you, at the end of the day what makes a good soul record is a good groove. This album is chock-full of good grooves. If “Hey You” doesn’t get your feet moving, check your pulse. The walking bassline evokes images of 50’s dancehalls filled with pompadours and poodle skirts. If the drums and bass line don’t get you, the saxophone and piano solos will.
While performed very, very, well, what I feel like this soul album lacks most is – ironically – soul. Sure, it sounds like soul, but does it feel like soul? What I think separates current masters of this genre (e.g. Leon Bridges, St. Paul and The Broken Bones) from the rest is that when they perform, your soul stirs. It isn’t just good, fun music. It is expression through rhythm and harmony. I challenge you to listen to St. Paul and The Broken Bones’ “Broken Bones and Pocket Change” and not feel something that makes you want to hear and feel more. You can’t.
In Josh’s defense, this is his debut album, and most artists struggle capturing energy on their debut. All things considered, for a debut album this is spectacular. It’s his first time exposing his artistry to our ears, and it is difficult to put yourself out there emotionally when you aren’t even sure how your music will be received. He took a bold risk, and he succeeded. I am very excited to see how Josh matures as a songwriter, and am looking forward to seeing what he will create. In the meantime, I will continue to thoroughly enjoy Vintage Dreamin’. I must say that at $7 on Bandcamp, this is one of the best music purchases I’ve made in recent memory.
Make sure to like Joshy Soul on Facebook, follow him on Twitter (@joshy_soul), and learn more about him in the Samsung Creator Series spotlight below. Listen to all of Vintage Dreamin’ here. Buy it if you love it.