The old archetype of bohemian folk artist is a concept that’s been romanticized and commercialized in movies such as Inside Llewyn Davis and really refuses to go away. I like to think I understand why and can write an entire paper about this but a lot of it has to do with feeling free and unshackled from the restraints of society.
Highways & Byways is the second album from Joe Dillstrom and he embraces the more original singer/songwriter category that was established in coffee houses in the late ’60s. Truth be told this genre is still very popular and is often created by guys in their 20’s and most likely will continue in that way for the unforeseeable future. There are degrees and Highways & Byways gets so many things right that I really loved listening to it.
Let's talk about aesthetics because that is a big reason I liked this so much. I’ve done a good amount of engineering and still prefer recording to tape. The hiss, the urgency and more has made me feel it’s the best way to capture music. Well, Highways & Byways was recorded to tape and the proof is in the pudding. It sounds fantastic. There is a little hiss, a perfect amount of warmth and I swear it somehow picks up more emotion than digital. I also have to mention the engineers placed just the amount of reverb on the vocals.
These songs did blend together for me but that’s not a bad thing. Part of this is due to the fact of how bare bones the songs were. The guitar, a harmonica on occasion and vocals. There is a cohesive quality to that and if the artist taps in a certain frequency that the listener enjoys then they will like the whole album. That’s how I felt here. I pressed play to listen to “One More Moment” and let it ride.
Now there are of course some differences. You can’t get more bluesy than “Johnnie Walker Red” but then you also have a song like “Charlie” which is more folk based. Suffice it to say Dillstrom’s influence from folk and blues artists from the ’50s and ’60s is an undeniable factor on these songs.
The guitar playing is great throughout. Dillstrom has exceptional command of the instrument and prefers more nuanced strumming and picking. It’s never that aggressive. As much as I liked the guitar, the vocals are the focal point here. Simply put he knows what these songs call for and is able to fill the demands. There is plenty of emotion in the singing and even if the lyrics were about something silly (which they aren’t) you would be moved.
I think at that point you should know what to expect from this talented musician. If you aren’t already listening then I encourage you to start.
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