J Tillman – Vacilando Territory Blues
‘Vacilando Territory Blues’ is J Tillman’s fourth album in three years but more importantly it’s his first on a major label and more importantly still it’s his first since the unprecedented success of the other project he’s deeply involved with, Fleet Foxes.
The same Laurel Canyon vibe that permeates the Foxes’ work is much in evidence here only Tillman’s take on it is very much coloured with a heavy dose of melancholy and lacks the sweet, uplifting harmonies of his companions.
The songwriting verges towards the pedestrian at times and the record takes a while to get going, ‘All That You See’ is a snippet that’s very Foxesesque. ‘No Occasion’, ‘First Born’ and ‘Vessels’ are all nice enough but very similar to each other and easily pass by without impinging on the listeners consciousness too greatly, so it’s not until ‘James Blues’ do you get something that draws the attention, a very stripped down vocal and guitar ballad with fireside clapping accompaniment.
After that, things pick up somewhat. ‘Steel On Steel’ is a rare uptempo moment and ‘Laborless Land’ builds to a nice peak and there are some great moments in amongst the less remarkable songs here though. ‘Barter Blues’, without doubt the stand out track on the album, is a slow brooding affair with some very atmospheric picked steel guitar and great lyrical content: ‘I met you on the way to heaven, where this blood gonna need protection, oh where you going, dressed like a murder’ being just one example of where he’s going with this one. It builds like a Sergio Leone movie over the course of its seven minutes until it breaks like a thunderstorm.
‘New Imperial Grand Blues’ is a stomper with an intro very much reminiscent of The Super Furry’s ‘Golden Retriever’ and has the great line ‘Spent enough time with the living to know the living don’t spend anything on me’.
Sadly, after that things fall away a little again. The last few tracks revert to the type of the first few and the album closes before you’ve really noticed. As albums by drummers go, it’s better than average but then we’re not really talking about a strong field here now, are we?
Top Tracks: ‘Barter Blues’, ‘New Imperial Grand Blues’.
Released 26/01/2009 on Bella Union