A well balanced triumph of timing, arrangement and subtlety...
Mark Perlaki
11:57 18th January 2009

Like the chance meeting of an old friend, there's something strangely familiar about 'Vacilando Territory Blues', J. Tillman's sepia tinted Americana songbook of acoustic ballads and laments. Marked by spartan arrangements that sound so frugal and vintage you'd think Tillman was raised in an Amish community, there's a mellowness to VTB that leaves a feeling of time and space on your side. Tillman is probably more familiar as the drummer of the hot ticket Fleet Foxes, but has quietly been releasing solo albums in the States since 2004, this one being his second to have U.K. distribution. Shades of Jason Molina (Songs:Ohia), a hammock-laden J.J. Cale and broody Will Oldman jostle for comparisons, while Tillman's voice evokes Sam Beam's (Iron and Wine) and Ray Lamontagne's husky tones. VCB comes on the back of three separate recording sessions in 2008 coloured by existential matters that is by no means dry or scholarly, whether Tillman is talking of a search for meaning or narrating a tale of a guy on the slippery slope, there's a lightness and heartfelt connection to his characters and inner life.

An atmospheric 'All You See' opens with haunting vocals that sets the unhurried tone of the album, while 'No Occasion' features a flourish of organ and chimes to float Tillman's musings and harmonies, singing "...I don't want this life to end...'cause it's just carried on again..." like a world-weary Buddhist talking of eternal recurrence. 'First Born' adopts even deeper notions on how to live as Tillman's harmonies float in the ether, and matters of faith are addressed on 'Above All Men' finding reason to feel that "...we are blessed/ lest we forget...", while 'Master's House' ponders on salvation and Divine guidance, Tillman with a porch-song aria - "...you won't need a dime to board in the Master's house...".

'Laborless Land' and 'Vessels' turn a collar to the breeze with an auditory schnapps, while 'Someone With Child' offers comfort and succour like Van the Man in his early days. 'James Blues', meanwhile, has Tillman pick up the sticks with svelte timing telling a tale of a man going to the dogs after losing a jealous woman his teeth 'n' all, singing "...the universe makes much more sense without a purpose/ poor poor James...", and the tale ringing so true there could be an 'Eleanor Rigby' in the making here.


'Barter Blues' is a stern stirring acoustic blues number full of flavour that evokes its' own myths of a murderer which Tillman stirs in the eye, singing "...I met you/ on the way to heaven...it's too late/ to act like you don't know me...", while 'Steel On Steel' is a country-tonkish slice that has Tillman drumming proper yet showing no signs of hardening the soft vocals and Americana feel. For that there's the magisterial 'New Imperial Grand Blues', a totally different brew to all else and the album's stand-out track. Rousing with a cacophony of horns and sax, 'New Imperial Grand Blues' works up a blues-rock stomper, singing - "...suffering doesn't know God's name...spend enough time with the living/ to know that living don't spend nothing on me...", a sumptuous track that wrestles like Iron and Wine getting dirty with some revisions of Iggy Pop & The Stooges.

On 'Vacilando Territory Blues', Josh Tillman has fashioned an exquisite and gentle album that arrests the busy, fritting mind and speaks to the quieter self. Guy Garvey's most likely itching to get him on his Radio 6 show. Deep yet far from gnarly browed, moody, broody or melancholic, VTB is a well balanced triumph of timing, arrangement and subtlety destined to become a musicians favourite of the year. Which in turn makes Fleet Foxes tickets all the more covetable.

 

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