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The Future That Was

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Album Review

No one has to remind Josh Joplin that he's a vocal ringer for R.E.M.'s frontman. "I sound like Michael Stipe and I dream like Carl Jung," goes the opening line of "Happy at Last." And although other influences are at work here — in particular a considerable debt to Elvis Costello's classic Imperial Bedroom — it's Stipe's name that first comes to mind on Joplin's sophomore major-label release. Between his often bleak lyrics and mournful but not morose voice, this music is made for geeky college girls that hang out at the library rather than frolicking at the frat keg party. Shawn Mullins, a longtime supporter who assisted on Joplin's last album, is MIA but his inspiration looms large. The spoken sections on the wordy "I Am Not the Only Cowboy" recall Mullins' similar approach. Producer Rob Gal keeps the focus on Joplin's voice, which is mixed way up front, with the rest of his group relegated to anonymous sideman status. Although there are some upbeat tracks, nothing rocks out, and the singer's clear enunciation makes this an album to be absorbed while reading the lyric sheet, not danced to or played at parties. There are no solos and few times when the artist isn't pontificating with his somewhat dour, hangdog outlook on life. Initially a bit chilly, Joplin's style gradually grows warmer as the disc unwinds. It also takes a few spins for many of the melodies to emerge from under the cloak of the melancholy vocals, ornate backing, and sometimes overwhelmingly literate words. But for those who relish in snuggling up to a good book on a Saturday night, The Future That Was provides refuge and Josh Joplin might end up as your new best friend. He's been there, done that, and has the album to prove it.

The Future That Was, Josh Joplin Group
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