Gentle folkie Josh Garrels writes songs of such pristine beauty and contemplative wonder, you may be lulled into a meditative bliss. Don't be. On Jacaranda (Grrr Records), his third album, Garrels does what he has done before, only better: He spins lovely tales of a dislocated, grace-filled life in a fallen world. He wanders a fragile and broken planet, a stranger and an alien ripped apart by the greed, injustice, and casual indifference that values money and material goods over people.
Yet he is awed by the simple grace of a bird's wing, the interplay of sunlight and shade on a rippling river, the miracle of birth. In the words of the late songwriter Mark Heard, he finds the strong hand of God hidden in the shadows.
That tension informs almost every song on Jacaranda. Children are born, grandparents die. Sin extends its inexorable reach, yet is overcome by quiet faith and obedience. Garrels communicates these conundrums through a supple, soulful falsetto, a bevy of stringed instruments, judicious use of world music samples, and trip-hop beats that subtly augment the push and pull of his complex, nuanced songs.
On the reggae-tinged "Zion and Babylon," he addresses the idols of mammon head-on, confronting a world in which greed fuels selfish consumption and fortunes are built upon the backs of the poor. But he offers a way out of the madness through love and faith in Christ. On the modern Delta blues piece "Never Have I Found," he stacks horror-movie imagery—blood-red moons, wolves, demon hounds—atop a jagged guitar riff that accentuates the lure of a glittering, hollow life apart from Christ. These are prickly, barbed songs, but they are not soon forgotten.
There are also moments of transcendent beauty. The wordless falsetto that accompanies the opening track, "Lake Yarina," is as angelically moving as anything found outside the Book of Revelation or a Sigur Rós album. Through it all, Garrels looks for a true home in the ineffable, finding meaning beneath the obvious and visible surfaces. He's mining, and he's mining for glory.
Andy Whitman, senior contributing editor for Paste magazine.
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