Wonderful Ones: An Ode to the Josh Joplin Group

3 Jul


On the 2001 LP Useful Music, Josh Joplin opens the track “Gravity” with a sagacious maxim: “I will not be here forever, so I will not waste any time.” And he and his band and then group (inside joke for fans) did not. Throughout the late 90s and early 2000s, Josh Joplin and his Atlanta crew released five albums of tremendous potency. Each was lined with extraordinary alternative folk/rock tracks, each written with the clever hand of Joplin, whose musical influences (Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan) seeped into each tracks lyric. If I had to describe the group in one fragment it would read: wonderfully skilled lyricist with a group that featured a defined taste for melody and instrumentation. This epithet unfortunately would also read “gone too soon” (12 years now), but, as Joplin sings in his ode to Phil Ochs, “you are not gone,” and, as this post demonstrates, the music of the Josh Joplin Group lives on.

So, why write this post? I don’t know how many Josh Joplin fans there are still. I’m sure many have at least a few tracks sitting on their iTunes track lists – as I do … well, I have more than a few. At least “Camera One,” which made an appearance on the first season of “Scrubs,” is on some playlists. However, Joplin and his group were (and still are in their individual ways – Joplin rarely performs but still recently released some music with Among the Oak & The Ash, a band he formed with singer/songwriter Garrison Starr and does still create solo stuff) way too talented to be reserved to turn of the century alt/rock playlists. I want more people to know about the “wonderful ones” that was the Josh Joplin Group. I will also reserve this one sentence as a minor request for the band to get back together and maybe do a little anniversary tour (the first album was released 20 years ago next year).

So, I need to provide some proof, don’t I. Well, trust me, I have proof of this band’s awesomeness. I’m going to pick two of my favorite songs from the Josh Joplin Group for you to gnaw on. Let’s start with “Better Days”

Much in the vein of Josh Ritter’s “Temptation of Adam,” which was released a decade after this song, Josh Joplin sings a delicate piece expressing his love for his significant other while the world around them was falling apart. The “tragic” nights and “ruins of rage” do not penetrate the couple’s love and although “the end is here,” Josh Joplin passionately professes that he has “never seen better days.” It’s a wonderful paradox that features a melody that perfectly captures the sentiment – soft violin and piano that crescendos when discussing the horror outside the couple’s window, but quiets when expressing the “better days” – however, the most passion of the song is the “I Love You” lyric, which just makes a good deal of sense!

I have to choose “Camera One.” Many of you are probably going, “Oh, this song – this is a really good song.” The song, which cautions Hollywood dreamers, appeared on the re-release of Useful Music in 2001. It is a passionate appeal to the masses, featuring a more radio rock sound – alternative and, true to form, clean and concise. It’s catchy – a driving incipient guitar followed by a build up to a strung-out chorus that bleeds over Joplin’s croon. Great song.

So, there you have it, my passionate appeal to listeners and readers of the Music Court. Listen to the Josh Joplin Group!

2 Responses to “Wonderful Ones: An Ode to the Josh Joplin Group”

  1. Bret September 24, 2018 at 5:44 pm #

    I don’t see a date on this article, so I have no idea when it was written. But I’m stoked to find a fellow Josh fan. I didn’t discover him until about 10 years ago, a decade after he released Boxing Nostalgic, but the love affair has been lasting. “Better Days” remains, to me, the most romantic song ever written. Useful Music is album I can listen to from track 1 to 12 with no inclinations to skip a song. One of my great regrets is that I was never able to see JJG perform live. The scattered live YouTube videos lack the production quality to make me feel like I was there. But I have successfully instilled a love for Josh into both my children, 13 and 17. That counts for something.

  2. Matthew Coleman May 5, 2020 at 3:31 pm #

    That’s awesome, Bret. Sorry for the much delayed response (getting back into the blog now that I have some time). Joplin is tremendous. So under-appreciated and underrated. In a way, though, his anonymity adds to his appeal. Excellent stuff.

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