“Maybe our world is ready for a modern-day political torchbearer, a new Billy to Bragg about…”
Bloomin’s strongest moments blossom when Josh Okeefe uses his traditional folk powers to grapple with current issues. Listen to the stark and should-have-been-album-opener ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ for Josh’s union of these forces. A song to bring a grimace of steely recognition to anyone who has gazed crestfallen at this now-standard politician’s response to every tragedy and mindless mass shooting.
Fans of Woody Guthrie, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Bob Dylan will find plenty to get excited about here… ‘Talkin Neighbour From Hell’ is a classic takedown talkin’ blues number in the vein of ‘Talkin’ World War III Blues’ or ‘Talkin’ New York’. It is also a tune I’ve enjoyed aiming out of an open window at a few of my own neighbours during lockdown.
His character songs offer beautiful snapshots of time, place and feeling including ‘Soldier‘ (“Love, it’s time to leave, I’ve been shipped overseas“) and ‘Young Sailor.‘
Bloomin’ Josh Okeefe is an album that is worth spending some time with as the second half is supremely strong in gravelly folk. There are echoes of Stan Rogers and early-Richard Thompson on the two Bloomin’ standouts ‘When Mother Nature Calls’ and ‘Son of the Working Class‘.
Unfortunately, I feel lead single and album opener ‘We’re All the Same’ is one of the weakest tracks on the album – sounding somewhat like an early demo of Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’ warbled into an iPhone voicenote. Having said that, the video is affecting and the song musters earnest power through brilliant lines such as, “we’re all in this together, through a mother eyes”.
The danger when writing songs that loot from Dylan’s masterful blueprints is that you are coming up against the greatest songwriter of all time and it is near-impossible to win. I can’t listen to ‘Lucille, Lucille’ without hearing Dylan’s superior ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.’ If you’re gonna’ take aim at the king, you sure as hell better not miss. Maybe do think twice in the future…
Still, the stripped back and pure folk format works brilliantly when coupled with the current issues of our times. This is when Josh O’Keefe is at his best. Back in the day, Robert Zimmerman rejected his protest-singer-voice-of-a-generation accolades and alienated many fans. For Josh O’Keefe to differ from Dylan, he must wear this mantle with pride, take aim, and hit where it hurts in a profound way. Derby (Josh’s birthplace), London, Nashville (his new home), hell, the world could really do with a voice like this right now. A voice of grit to tell us how it is and to voice our disquiet.
Maybe our world is ready for a modern-day political torchbearer, a new Billy to Bragg about.
Bloomin’s album cover is also worthy of mention, harking back to a delightfully simpler time when track listings were displayed in full on the front sleeve. The artistic choices here offer us an insight into Josh’s habit of wearing his influences and passions on his own chequered sleeves. The Bloomin’ affectation brings to mind the humorous warmth of Raymond Brigg’s Father Christmas character – who of course had plenty to grumble about regarding the plight of the ordinary working man.
Josh OKeefe’s live performances are striking and absolutely worth checking out: his sand-and-glue vocals suited perfectly to the sofar sounds set, the festival folk stage, the backroom bar, and now the live stream! (See his performance for our very own Lockdown Live from May 26 here.)
Keep on Bloomin’ Josh Okeefe, the folk here at Camden Live are excited to see where you take this.