A few weeks ago I had the chance to write a guide to Philly’s best songwriters for the new CBS Local website.
One of the songwriters on my list was Joshua Popejoy, an acoustic rocker who emerged from the Dave Matthews mold but no longer fits within it.
I wouldn’t bring Dave up, except the quickest way to orient you to what Joshua is is to explain what he isn’t. Yes, he’s got the acoustic aerobics, the big wailing chorus vocals, and even a full time string player in cellist Andrea Weber. He even plays some Dave covers. But his music gets to a place that a jam mentality usually doesn’t touch. It’s personal. It can be succinct. It’s cutting – sometimes scathing.
And it’s freaking catchy. Sample Till Then I”ll Wait (Live at Buckets).
From the moment I pitched my article I struggled with including Josh on the list. Josh is a friend of mine. That alone wouldn’t be a disqualifier, since I’m friends with a ton of local musicians, but I’ve also played shows with him and written promo material for him.
Probably not kosher I thought, so I went on compiling my list without him.
Joshua didn’t start out a friend, bill-sharer, or client. I originally met him as the host of the open mic at Buckets in East Falls. We weren’t fast friends in the bar environment, too busy drinking and banging out songs to try to catch the attention of the crowd.
It wasn’t until later, when I was hosting an open mic in a cafe, that I truly became a fan of Joshua’s. With the drown-out-the-crowd mentality by the wayside I was actually listening to his songs for the first time, and realizing just how many of them I was a fan of. Suddenly I was the one yelling out requests and singing harmony from the crowd.
Which brings me back to my list. Every time I tried to find another radio-ready singer-songwriter playing acoustic rock with aggressive acoustic guitars, carefully crafted lyrics, killer hooks, and fierce full band arrangements I came up empty. Why? Because in Philly Songwriter Jeopardy “Who is Joshua Popejoy?” is the definitive question to that answer.
After discarding three other potential acoustic rockers to fill that spot I called my contact at CBS to make sure including him was on the up and up, and then Joshua went on the list.
Last weekend E and I attended the CD release for Joshua’s After the Ash. He and his band were fantastic and surprisingly funky with bassist Gene Orlando and guitar from Jon Glaubitz – witness their shocking cover of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” (that’s my trademark yelp at :54).
While the show was rock, the accompanying disc is stripped-down. Ash presents a cycle of songs in the order they were written, solo and acoustic – arranged and recorded DIY-style by Josh with the exception of some of the vocals, plus one track each of mandolin and cello.
I’ve grown accustomed to the band versions of this octet of tunes, but the stripped down acoustic takes on Ash destroy me. They are the Joshua Popejoy I fell in love with in a coffee shop. I’ll still love him when he is filling a room with sound playing with his amazing band, but when it comes to turning on a new listener I’ll play a song from After the Ash, every time.
Both After the Ash and Joshua’s debut EP Runway Lights are available from JoshuaPopejoy.com. You can Like Joshua on FB, but the best way to keep up with him is his mailing list – which offers occasional pithy messages and free downloads. For tons of free music from Joshua, check out his archive of live shows on Archive.org.