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J. Tillman

Vacilando Territory Blues

Western Vinyl

Jun 02, 2009 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Whilst fellow purveyors of brittle and bruised Americana Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Damien Jurado have begun to embrace a fuller sonic palette of late, the music of Joshua Tillman maintains a stripped-down, world-weary restraint. Tillman’s solo output—which stretches back to 2004—also differs considerably from the soaring chamber pop of the all-conquering Fleet Foxes whom he joined as a drummer in early 2008.

Vacilando Territory Blues, Tillman’s fifth album, is a quintessentially late-night record. Empty hiss and tired strums of acoustic guitar lead into pieces of hushed introspection and melancholy, often swelled out by piano, mandolin and cello. Tillman—his textured vocal at times reminiscent of Ray LaMontagne—is joined on the album by fellow Fleet Foxes, Casey Wescott and Christian Wargo, as well as singer/cellist Jenna Conrad (perhaps most famous for her work with Jurado).

After opening with the spectral harmonies of 45-second “All That You See,” “No Occasion” features Wescott’s gorgeously understated mellotron, his piano and mandolin also featuring on “Firstborn” and “James Blues”—some of the finest moments on the album. “James incurred the wrath of a jealous woman,” Tillman sings, “Not long after that/Spending all his weekends/Trying to re-learn/How a young man yearns after a noose/Poor poor James.”

The following four tracks briefly abandon the album’s restraint, reaching toward a fuller sound. “Steel on Steel” introduces crisp electric guitar lines, pedal steel, drums—even French horn. The sepia-toned “Laborless Land” is followed by “Barter Blues,” which slithers eerily past 7 minutes toward a false ending which then erupts into a crunching crescendo of guitar and drums. “New Imperial Grand Blues” opens like a parlor blues re-imagined by The Black Keys, Wescott’s delightful Manzarek-like organ threading through the mix.

The album’s final four tracks return to the dominantly plaintive tone although “Above All Men” calls for a counting of life’s blessings: “If you have a day’s work/And a good word/And a night’s rest after keeping/ company of your friends/And a woman to greet the morning with/ then you are blessed…above all men.” (

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Josh Tillman
June 11th 2009

The lyric in “James Blues” is:
“James incurred the wrath of jealous woman
And not long after that
Was spending all his weekends
Trying to relearn
How a young man yearns after a nurse”

It’s about castration.  I have little more of a sense of humor than your interpretation suggests.

June 11th 2009

“have a little more of”.  oops.