Is he a country singer? Is he a goth-rocker? Is he an electronic knob-twiddler? Is that even his real name? Yes, yes, yes – and no. Josh Martin named himself after Nashville icon Don Gibson, but he might just as well have called himself Knack Cave or Mafia Dear, because it’s impossible to separate out just one strand from his muscular blend of guitars and fiddles, beats and bass, and creepy baritone vocals.
‘Me Moan’ is Gibson’s second album, and comes out just over a year after his debut, ‘All Hell’. Last time we heard from him, he was crate-digging in Philadelphia record shops and stitching together oddly-matched samples (country, gospel, alt rock), then crooning like Johnny Cash over the results. On ‘Me Moan’, everything is bigger. The baritone is still there, but expanded from Cash only to a groaning, wailing one-man choir (‘me moan’, indeed). The pick-and-mix of musical elements – all played live this time – is even more mind-boggling: ‘Mad Ocean’ packs in bagpipes and glitchy drums, while ‘Won’t You Climb’ accompanies a keyboard solo with syrupy strings that’d be at home on a classic Perry Como number. Weirdest of all, perhaps, is ‘The Pisgee Nest’, a creepy-as-hell tale of small-town prostitution which kicks off like a dub remix of Snoop Dogg’s ‘Gin and Juice’ (yes, seriously) before a bent-out-of-shape guitar line ushers the verse in.
What makes ‘Me Moan’ special, though, is the thing which prevents all of these elements from falling apart. Gibson is a top-class songwriter and producer, with the ability both to write a killer hook and to make sure it sinks in by giving it the space it needs. The proof for this is all over the album: just take the galloping, key-changing chorus on ‘The Sound of Law’ that comes out of nowhere and strikes home every time, or the poignant, acoustic ‘All My Days Off’. If you took away the bass, the beats and the bagpipes, ‘Me Moan’ would still be a solid listen. As it is, it’s pretty much indispensable. What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments box below or tweet us at @TimeOutMusic.
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