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Joe Prichard – Just Play the Damn Song

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Joe Prichard
Just Play The Damn Song (link includes song clips)

If you’re familiar with Joe Prichard at all, it is probably as the front man, and primary songwriter, of the Morgantown, WV outfit The Recipe. Through out the mid to late 90s, The Recipe were the musical equivalent of that ball from Katamari Damacy, scooping up new fans every where they played. The band’s sound was a mix of traditional Appalachian mountain music and Joe’s unrepentant love of the Beatles and 60s brit pop. While usually lumped in with the jamband scene, the group eschewed long jams in favor of songs that were instantly in your head, easy to sing along with, and, most importantly, damn fun to dance around to. It was this mix which was at the center of the Recipe phenomenon.

Unfortunately, while the 90s were very good to the band, this decade was less so. Shortly after the decade started the band lost female vocalist Kristen Wolverton, whose larger then life personality was a big part of the Recipe identity. They quickly rebounded from this though by picking up Julie Edlow to fill Kristen’s slot and began the process of rebuilding their momentum. Before they could really get themselves back on track though, the band stumbled with a long series of line-up changes, owing in large part to their relentless touring schedule. The band limped along for a couple more years, eventually cutting back on touring, before finally calling it quits in ’07 with Joe as the sole original member left in the group. The band still occasionally plays now and then and still puts on their Recipe Family Cookout festival at Nelson Ledges in OH, but no longer tours.

Just Play the Damn Song is Joe’s first album since officially dissolving The Recipe, and it’s an interesting continuation of his career as a song writer. While The Recipe’s sound was a mix of Appalachia and England, it tended to skew more towards Appalachia, especially later on in its life. With his first solo album, Joe seems to be pushing the mix in the other direction. There is little of the fast breaks and flat picking that one might expect from a song writer who grew up in WV. Instead there’s more of a roots rock feel that is informed by 60s pop and a definite Beatles influence. Since the album is a Joe Prichard solo affair, instead of the work of a fixed band, the arrangements are allowed to shift to what the song needs, though they tend to focus on guitars, bass, and drums, with a little keys and percussion here and there as accents. Smartly Joe’s kept one of the best things about the Recipe sound though, its focus on the rhythm. While the Appalachia:England mix has changed, Joe is still writing great songs that aren’t just easy to dance to, but almost compel you to move.

While the album changes the formula a bit, Joe isn’t making a total break from his past. The album features a handful of tracks that debuted as Recipe songs, a couple of which were even recorded by The Recipe, but the new takes, while echoing their original versions and being the closest Joe comes to mimicking the Recipe sound, also seem to have something a bit different about them.

The result of all of this is a very strong first effort that puts Joe’s song writing up front. Given Joe’s history, it probably would have been easy for him to put together an album that included some great pickers and really celebrated the Appalachian sound. Instead, Joe is standing alone on this album for better or worse. If you like this album, you will want to pay attention to Joe’s work. If not, then may be this isn’t for you, as crazy as I may think you are.

The underlying sense I get from this album is that of a song writer, faced with having to stand on his own in the wake of his band’s break up, returning to his roots and rediscovering why it is he’s doing this. I’m not sure how much of this is me having gotten to know Joe years ago, but I just get the feeling that he’s having a lot of fun with this album. Listening to some of these songs, I can almost picture that grin of his.

The Recipe were never a band that tried to be anything that they weren’t. They played the music they liked, free of pretension. For me, that was always the most obvious expression of their Appalachian roots. They were part of a tradition that saw music as a part of life. A reason for people to come together and enjoy themselves. They were not a band that was concerned with being rock stars, just paying the rent and the bills. Joe’s mixed up the formula with his first solo album, but that central drive, not of stardom, but of just playing music people will enjoy, is still obvious.

I would especially recommend this album to fans of the Wizard Rock group The Remus Lupins. The sound is a little fuller, with a more roots rock flavor to it, but there are more then a few similarities between the two groups, owing in large part to both band’s obvious debt to the Beatles. For non WRockers, I’d recommend this to anyone with a fondness for late 60s, very early 70s, roots rock music. The Band or The Byrds, might be good touch stones, but with a more meaty sound.

While they aren’t the best representations of the fleshed out versions of the songs you’ll hear on the album, here are two video clips of Joe doing two songs from the album live.

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Written by Matt

June 9th, 2009 at 10:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized