Joel P West’s music is like a deep reservoir for those who are lonesome and prefer it that way. He himself appears nearly always preoccupied, whether it be satiating wanderlust, finding new ways to rebel against the mediocrity of language when applied to things he stands in awe of: mountains, the night sky, stretches of evergreens; taking what’s left- metaphor and observations and when that doesn’t satisfy, bringing in the swimming ease of violin, cello and keys. When I was sent over a recent collection of songs called Shoulder Seasons I was expecting there would be even more terrain covered, more books read and more insight to share.
If you’re not listening carefully, the music of Joel P. West- whatever shape it takes (with the accompanying Tree Ring or solo) can be heard as any other folk act: acoustic guitar, gliding ballads that pay homage to lakes ‘n trees. It just sounds nice. But when you sit with it for a while, it’s all the more inviting- with horns and strings that sound like Bowerbirds, a melodic croon like Fionn Regan and the elegance of Midlake- but the words are all his. He holds tightly to stories of himself and his loved ones in San Diego. He draws in nearer with a vital curiosity for all the things that won’t last, “and the color of the sky will never be the same,” or what could’ve been, and what is yet to be. He experiences what most pass as mundane, and breathes these moments in, aware of the fact that his own aliveness is connected to the daylight and the biting cold, provided by the “stubborn” yet “gracious” earth.
He delves into the exhaustive nature of himself as an artist, and as a man that tries to catch elusive greatness in his life, singing, “a fear in my core longs for more, to be remembered or respected for”. There’s something brave in that. It’s the very fear that motivates self-preservation that will expose the impermanence of everything. And it’s in this realization that he becomes most wise. This collection of songs are perhaps his most honest yet. There’s a calming color to it; he’s not without doubt, wonder, chaos, or a desire to dig into himself further- but with that, an acceptance for what was and what is, that leaves him well prepared for what’s next, as he sings “we are young, I’m learning we’re not promised clean lines in years to come”. The method sounds familiar: his voice dips and lingers in the same motion, but it’s the stories that have grown a bit older. As I approach my first winter in a few years, I’ll be experiencing the same kind of familiar re-introduction. You can download Shoulder Seasons here.