Russell Joslin, Hasting Smugglers

He reframes folk's storytelling tradition and brings it kicking and screaming into the 21st century - one of the most versatile and riveting young talents on the scene.

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Date: 19 Jan 2008 | By Holly Dawson | Rating: 4
Russell Joslin, Hasting Smugglers

Now and again an unsigned talent comes along that is doing something so different and so exhilarating that it has to be talked about. Since the launch of his album in June last year, certain circles have been waking up to the musical face-slap that is Russell Joslin. For Joslin possesses a secret weapon that both keeps you on your toes and clearly distinguishes him from the rest. Underneath gentle, intimate tones lurks a reedy, raw iron-bar of a voice that he unleashes to inject a vitriolic richness to his songs - adding a caustic addendum to an ironic love-song, or exposing a sinister twist in a rambling tale.

From the spirited opener 'Blood On The Coals', his songs demand attention. Joslin makes effective use of silences to punctuate the plucky punch of driving riffs and his voice oscillates naturally between a softer, mellow sound and that raw grittiness that is his alone. Joslin is calm and confident, but his presence takes second place to the arresting sound that comes out of him; at times intimate and personal, then suddenly terrifying, often in the same song. 'Bleed' exemplifies this: the quiet intricate picking acquires an almost sinister feel as Joslin unleashes the full power of his voice before dropping back into a gravely vibrato on deeper, held notes.

The blistering 'Story Gang' confirms his originality. The audience claps along until Joslin has sped up so fast his hand is barely visible, before taking a pause and going off in another direction entirely with the touching simplicity of folk ballad 'Country Lanes'. But this, too, is subject to the Joslin twist, as he subverts the traditional style with discordant chord progressions and a nod to the naughty ("her hair will make you dream of the sounds that will come out of her").

The pained 'Pale Mary' hints at a richer, vintage sound; the track is perhaps a little long but showcases some effective harmonica playing that appears again in his re-working of a Thomas Hardy poem. With lyrics about dancing and cider, a blander voice would make it sound to yokel-folky, but Joslin's abrasive, jaded tones suggest life experience beyond his years. It is nice to see the vulnerability a solo show exposes. A playful, calmer side to Joslin emerges that allows him to experiment with melodies - in 'Dead Baby Blue' he bends pace and volume to evoke the haste and rhythm of the train journey in his song, while a stripped down version of 'Dictionary Man' is heartfelt and moving, with a climax that get your palms sweating.

At his best, Joslin can create instant atmospheres that have an audience hanging on his every word. He really knows how to get the most out of a guitar, and this, along with his multiple vocal textures, brings to life the characters and tragedies of his tales. He reframes folk's storytelling tradition and brings it kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and is - without doubt - one of the most versatile and riveting young talents on the scene. 18/01/08Holly Dawson