Joshua Tillman, Vacilando Territory Blues
It feels like an eternity ago that Joshua Tillman found me, on that infamous, international, online “social” (yet not so social) networking site. I suppose if there’s any redeeming quality to Myspace beside the huge impact it’s had on the music world, it’s because that’s where I was introduced to Tillman. This chance meeting has made my little world more majestic, magical, and holy.
We artists react to each other, and I can’t help but react to his artwork, whether musically, visually, or spiritually. And so it goes; I write this passage. Upon listening to his more spirit-filled melodies, as on “All You See,” “Master’s House,” and “Firstborn,” you awaken to new and hidden riches long after the music has stopped. The music often finds me breaking into unexpected tears, as though I’ve been holding back, unable to express my emotions.
I clearly recognize the spiritual progression becoming deeper and stronger as I listen to each album that he’s released along the way. He’s correct in his musing about the depressing fact that so many bands are here today and gone tomorrow, but much to the contrary, J. has built quite a portfolio of well-designed, meaningful music. For the sake of this review, I’ll focus on Vacilando Territory Blues, which was released at the start of the year under the native Texan Western Vinyl label.
The album’s rich with hallowed, sacred symbolism, as well as the occasional upbeat psychedelic tune, like “New Imperial Grand Blues,” which conjures up 1960s Haight-Ashbury and incorporates a wonderful experimental dissonance, nicely placed within the more structured song. “Steel on Steel” is another catchy tune. Tillman’s album artwork, also drenched with allusion, features a photo with antique rocker, piano, porcelain dolls, old bones, and an iron kettle. The objects and plants that he chooses to place amidst the geometric shapes include a fern to represent humility, lilies, which represents the holy spirit, purity, majesty, wealth, pride, and innocence. The monkeywrench is a reminder to keep a circle of very tight family and friends.
There’s the goblet or chalice, used for Holy Communion, hence Christ’s message, “Do this in Remembrance of Me,” which Tillman manages to eloquently pull into his song. The crown you see represents righteousness, power, honor, immortality, victory, resurrection, triumph, and glory of life after death. The circle that encloses the design looks to be hand-drawn and somewhat Native American (like what looks to be a winged creature at the bottom) but also includes trees, hands, and other plant-looking patterns. Trees could very well represent the Garden of Eden, or the line “All that you see you have dominion / All you don’t know you are forbidden,” taken from the opening song, “All That You See.”
Of course, the Bible may be seen at the top of the pentagon. Most importantly, though, are the words around the decagon, which clearly state “We have seen His Star in the East and are come to worship Him.” Tillman may not call himself a missionary, but he’s a fisher of men: as one writer reports, “if you listen too closely, your soul just might get crushed.” His next release, Year in the Kingdom, is out this month.