On the cutting-edge of country music whilst firmly rooted in tried-and-true tradition, Desure’s debut EP delivers a series of timeless tunes blending folk, bluegrass and indie rock in seamless, stylish fashion.
My introduction to Josh Desure came with an opening slot for Texas honky-tonk kings Midland at Gorilla (the best venue going) in Manchester last December, and I maintain that it was the most electric support set I’ve ever seen. At a time when Desure, a long-time friend and former tour manager of Midland, had just two songs released, the crowd acted like Garth Brooks had just shown up at the 500-capacity venue. Walking off to whoops and cheers from the barrier to the bar, the jubilation in that room was beyond some headline shows I’ve seen at the same venue, and the atmosphere was more than enough to get me excited for this debut EP when it was announced on stage that night.
It’s likely Desure noted the atmosphere too, as he kicks off the EP with the lead single and the song which without a doubt went off the most, ‘Kick Rocks.’ Fronted by a Springsteen-esque horn section and driven by rampant drums and electric guitars, this break-up anthem reaches the pinnacle of western badass-ery, whilst simultaneously stuck in a purgatory of longing and forgiveness – “I guess I just want your laugh/To know you’re not fucking all my friends.” The amount of yee-haws this line was greeted with on a cold winter night in central Manchester attests to the universal relatability of the lead single.
Despite its state of purgatory, ‘Kick Rocks’ actually sits as the most self-assured song in the tracklist, which says a lot about the emotional glacier on which this EP stands. Following it is the aptly named ‘Coming Down,’ which opens with the sobering line “Oh my god I think I’m dying.” Serving as a mental relapse after the somewhat liberating ‘Kick Rocks,’ ‘Coming Down’ is just one moment on the record depicting a songwriter in despair. Desure’s forlorn, wavering voice delivers an unrelenting feeling of sorrow, yet he doesn’t get lost behind the instrumentation. If it wasn’t for the tasteful piano and guitar work, on occasion even including some synths to give it a lonesome 80s tinge, it would almost feel like the band was brought in on this one just to ensure it wasn’t an absolute sob-show. However he manages to keep this woeful vibe sounding fresh on the tracks beyond it, ‘Coming Down’ is an insightful and emotionally moving cut.
Opened by bluegrass-like steel guitars, ‘Spillin’ Guts’ is without a doubt the most country track on the EP. Painting a scene of a turbulent late-night conversation with a lover in a dusty dive bar in which one party is more willing to stick around than the other, the song is a welcome boot on the ground after the emotional extremes heard previously. If you’ve caught on by now though, you’ll know Desure isn’t one to stylistically ‘kick back and relax’ very long. I wrote more about the second single ‘Los Angeles’ in March for a piece you can read here, but in short it’s a blurred watercolour reflection of a faceless neon city in the early hours of the morning. Hopelessly hungover, it climaxes into a yell into the urban abyss, clouded by depression and drunken distortion.
The EP comes to a close with two back-to-back ballads which fit snugly into each other yet show off very different sonic approaches. On the penultimate track, ‘West Wind (Stay Here Awhile),’ the instrumentation comes right back down to basics to put all the focus on Desure’s songwriting and vocals. Josh’s often fragile and injured voice absolutely carries this track with tremendous conviction. Suddenly breaking into a tumultuously fervent bridge which peaks at “Always you at the end of my line,” Desure takes it back down to romantic lows with a line only he could evade corniness with – “Honey know that I love you/Like I’ve never loved anyone.” The chorus on this one is gripping and has sounded classic from the day it dropped just under a month ago.
Pulling the curtains on Desure’s first studio effort is ‘Sailing Nights,’ a 70s soft rock-style closing lament which drifts the EP off into a dark slumber. Unlike the direct and romantic folk ballad which came before it, the closer sees Desure back on his lonesome, delivering a pained remonstrance aimed at the single nightlife culture which he seems so desperate to escape throughout this record.
Desure’s self-titled debut EP embraces bygone elements of an array of genres and sees him piece them together in what feels like a definitive spark within the cultural renaissance of country and western.