Joshua James’ dubbed his home and farm, which he shares with his wife and an assembly of animals, Willamette Mountain in order to “create an imaginary place where anything and everything was possible.” The dreamy title track on the singer’s third release winds its listener up this hopeful mountainside to a rustic homestead, of which James sings, “A sheepskin for winter and a tin can for rain / I can cut you fresh ginger if you say that you’re stayin’ / I got a million more stories / Only half aren’t true / Here inside Willamette Mountain.” The song’s acoustic guitar hangs back, allowing James’ earnest voice (a bit of Marcus Mumford at times; at others, Ray LaMontagne) to repeatedly croon “I am not real” at the fore.
This idea repeats throughout Willamette Mountain’s sparse collection of earnest, campfire-ready songs, on which James’ vocals prove to be his most impressive to date. He sings of the heart on “Doctor, Oh Doctor” (“We’ll dance across the crystal floor and to our love retreat”) and lust on “Wolves” (“But darlin’, I don’t know the reasons why drinking always leads to sex”), but faith is what James grapples with the most.
He recently said he’s changed his focus from depending on an inevitable accent to heaven to enjoying the beauty of life as it comes, and “Surrender” captures the sentiment as he recurrently sings, “I don’t believe in much.” Although moments of existential gloom creep alongside the songs, James’ hustle and bustle-free lifestyle creates simpler songs, like the single “Queen of the City”, on which the musician sings of an evening when his wife was working at the hospital: “But my dog ain’t nothin’ / He ain’t nothin’ like my lover.”
James has called Willamette Mountain “my home, my state of mind, my escape from the rest of the world,” and the range of effects the place has on the folk singer resulted in his most resonant work yet.
Essential Tracks: “Willamette Mountain”, “Wolves”