"Timelessness," says award-winning Southern California-based singer-songwriter Joel Rafael, "is a quality that you can't quite place, but it's about something that seems like it's always been there, and always should be there, whether it's an old house, or a mountain or a song." It aptly describes "This Is My Country," the lead track on Rafael's new album Thirteen Stories High, his first set of original material since 2000's Hopper. The disc follows up two acclaimed collections paying tribute to the music of Woody Guthrie.
An affecting and plain-spoken protest song featuring background vocals from David Crosby and Graham Nash, the cut sounds both age-old and clearly relevant to the country's current, war-weary despair. Nash said of it, "I wish I had written this song. So powerful and profound a call from his heart to ours." For all of the different roads that all of the song's listeners may have walked, they'll be in unison with Rafael's blunt and simply worded refrain about the powers that be: "And I know when I say these words that I am not alone/It's time to stop them in their tracks/it's time to take our country back."
Rafael's lyrical directness and honest delivery reliably elevate his art with a stripped-down blend of wisdom, realism, empathy and hope. It flows effortlessly throughout Thirteen Stories High, recorded in Austin, Texas and released in 2008 on Inside Recordings, an independent label founded by Jackson Browne and his management team. As prominent music writer Dave Marsh once said, "the stories Joel Rafael tells, and the emotional spells his music weaves, have depth and beauty because they come from so deep in his heart, and pierce so deep into ours he says his music is a 'streak' in his soul, but while you're listening, it seems more like the whole damn thing."
Of the new album's thirteen tracks, eleven are original compositions, many written over the last year or two. Among them are a paean to water ("Rivers And Rain"), a love song about checking your baggage, whatever the nature of the relationship ("Ball & Chain), and "Promised Land," which Rafael says is, "one of those travel to hell and back songs. This one came out of a dream, with images of crossing a river with angels of mercy guiding the way."
Thanks to Peter Holmstedt - Hemifran