J. Tillman

Singing Ax

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Released in 2010, Singing Ax is essentially the J. Tillman album to end all J. Tillman albums. It's an unapologetic return to the sparsity of his earliest works, and a lyrical and vocal culmination: lyrics replete with imagery and poetic narrative, and a storytelling-style delivery that's still intimate but more purposeful than the most delicate moments of his past records. It's also Josh Tillman's last solo effort before dropping the J. Tillman moniker with its pensive, intensely raw lyrics and performances, leaving his drumming gig with Fleet Foxes, and adopting the alias Father John Misty for more outward-projecting vocals and content. Recorded by In Utero-producing legend Steve Albini, Singing Ax is unvarnished but sturdy. The spare accompaniment of acoustic guitar and thumps for the opening track, "Three Sisters," sets a quiet, serious tone for the album that doesn't falter. The song is a solo spiritual of sorts; a parable employing Biblical phrases like "want of wealth" and "beasts of the field and birds of the air." As with his previous release, Year in the Kingdom, Biblical language and references abound on the record, befitting its poetic, timeless lyrics, such as on the title track: "And there's no prophet on the mount whose words won't be drowned out/By our locust fingers clicking never-ending in our laps/We traded in divine inheritance to break our pagan masks." Tillman's typically elegant melodies are also intact here, like on the lilting "Our Beloved Tyrant" and the foot-tapping "Tillman's Rag," with its diminished chords and gliding, syncopated vocal line. The end of a chapter in his career, Singing Ax's final track, "A Seat at the Table," could be a salute to his adept but underappreciated solo output under the J. Tillman name: "I wanted to build a monument here/With my face in the dirt and my hands in the air/But no one came and no one cared/So I gathered my bricks and I disappeared."

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