Sunday 4 May 2008

Two Albums by JOE WILKES:-
(Vida Music VMCD 006)

Comparisons are odious. And Joe’s probably already hacked-off with the ‘great lost Nick Drake’ album tag. The title-track fades in from nothing, building on graceful discord before dissolving into stinging acoustics buoyed by mystically airy string arrangements. Only Joe’s refreshingly-roughened vocal delivery and the resonant double-bass compensate for those immaculately tasteful string quartet sections, reconciling roots with a glistening spin-free modernity. All indicating that ‘his path’ – as he phrases it, ‘is way beyond the border’. “The Castle” alludes to the ‘sweet medicines’ of cocaine, wine, and mythological archetypes from Katherine Hepburn to kings & queens, where woodwinds lurk in entrancing weaves that surge and ebb around smoky vocals. Then “This Time Won’t Last Forever” takes ‘photographs of urban landscapes’, with the uncertainty of his relationship expressed with smooth mid-tempo assurance. This is Joe’s first album, although there were a couple of more poppy EP’s with his former band – Casino Pil, before he drew up his ‘Ten Limits’ manifesto (inspired by the Dogme95 movies). A principled stand defined by real organic instruments and no studio mix-trickery. Ten tracks that might at first suggest John Martyn, or the neat Bert Jansch fingering of “Infra Red”, or… yes, Nick Drake. But after a couple of plays, no - they all just sound like Joe Wilkes, spinning the kind of poetics that have you hunting for the lyric sheet. Only there isn’t one. So you concentrate. These are songs made of enigmatic secrets and oblique tales, painted shadows and time-passages. He’s a vagabond heart, a smudged boho, a darkly-tousled troubadour. ‘I am a liar, I am a thief’ admits the ‘spotlight kid’. Then harmonica, clarinet and giggles wend into “Too Late To Pray”, a more paranoid political take on the USA, evolving out of his parents hammer-&-sickle inclinations into an edgy need to just smash something. Yet without the need for any mood-interrupting heaviness. Finally, “Tomorrow Whatever” is a bryter layter take on summer in the city, where the traffic crawls like a river, with possibly dark undercurrents swirling in its throw-away ‘Hey, whatever’. The ‘great lost Nick Drake’ album? – naw, more, perhaps, with acoustics being the new black, this might yet prove to be the acceptable face of James Blunt.


On website:-

Review of:-
(Vida Music VMCD 007)

‘If I Could Change Everything, I Wouldn’t Change Anything’ is a neat song title, but in Joe Wilke’s case, it’s not exactly accurate. Since ‘Spotlight’, his 2007 debut, his sound has become a touch more strident, more committed, even more extreme, to match the wrap-around ‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On’ sepia artwork. There are delicate arty chamber-Folk noodlings with a haunting minimalist wind quintet and violin, or a smoky boho Euro-ethnic melancholia with gipsy accordions, and girl-voice harmony (on ‘The Making Of A Fool’) but even with its classy classicisms the essential tone is acoustically downbeat, starkly reflective. The continuity is that, as before he’s strong with words, and knows how to spin them to effect. The title track deals in patriot games as far back as ‘fighting with the anarchists’ in 1936 civil war Spain. But he’s just as sharp nailing complacency to Dubya (‘As It Comes’), or paraphrasing the Pistols with ‘England’s Scheming’, which asks why we ‘in the 51st State… imitate things that we used to hate’. A rhyme I’ve got considerable time for. Unique and remarkable, Joe’s frontline splices the personal with the political, with the issues and the eclecticism to encompass it all.


Both albums from - Vida Music Division, Ground Floor, 66 Manor Avenue, London SE4 1TE (Tel: +44(0) 7903 122 084)
Or visit

No comments: