Modern Day Man is Josh Williams' first album in six years. When 2010's Down Home was issued, his career was on the rise but his life was circling the drain. He'd been dismissed from Rhonda Vincent's band in 2007 for abuse of drugs and drink, but had subsequently won three consecutive IBMA Awards as Guitarist of the Year in the aftermath, and his own band had won the organization's Emerging Artist Award in 2010. Just after Down Home hit the streets, Williams checked himself into rehab and cleaned up -- at 6'4", he weighed a mere 140 pounds due to a years-long methamphetamine addiction. In 2012, two years sober, he was rehired by Vincent. Modern Day Man was produced by New South legend J.D. Crowe. It collects a dozen fine songs from writers past and present: Tom T. Hall, Harley Allen, Chris Stapleton, Ronnie Bowman, and Jerry Douglas among them. Likewise, Williams' cast is a superpickers who's who: Sam Bush, Sierra Hull, Aubrey Hainey, Rob Ickes, Doug Jernigan, Scott Vestal, Aaron McDaris. The music weaves and wanders across and through the back lanes of honky tonk, bluegrass, newgrass, and country balladry. There are kicking versions of Jonathan Edwards' "Girl from the Canyon" and Hall's "Another Town." Both songs appeared on J.D. Crowe & the New South's 1982 album Somewhere Between. That album showcased the legendary talent of the late vocalist Keith Whitley (a casualty of alcoholism) and guitarist Tony Rice (who hired Williams to play mandolin in his band after Ms. Vincent fired him). Both were primary influences. "Let It Go" is a song of spiritual surrender by Douglas and Bowman. Its lonesome Dobro, simple bassline, and strummed guitars underscore the tenderness in the lyric portrayed by Williams' soulful voice. "The Great Divide," closely associated with George Jones and Tammy Wynette, is delivered here in a totally different arrangement. It showcases just how accomplished and authoritative Williams is as a singer. "Prodigal Son" offers, in modern country-bluegrass parlance, beautiful evidence of the roots of mountain music. Allen's beautiful "God's Plan" is offered here as a ballad of sincere gratitude and hard-won wisdom, even though it was written by a man who died as a result of his own substance abuse problems. The uptempo banjo and guitar picking and fine harmony singing in "Always Have, Always Will" offset the depths of the lyric's impenetrable darkness. The album ends, thankfully, with a redemption story in the sparsely arranged "Sweet Little Boy"; the relief and gratitude in the grain of Williams' voice at the conclusion is palpable. Modern Day Man is directly and indirectly a song cycle about traveling through a life, from innocence and pain through hell, self-reflection, awareness, and ultimately resurrection. It is executed with the kind of musical acumen only a musician of Williams' caliber can deliver, and it is heartfelt yet totally absent of maudlin sentiment or confessional overstatement. Fantastic.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek