The Hippo


Jul 4, 2020








The Joshua Incident. Courtesy photo.

The Joshua Incident

When: Saturday, Feb. 28, 9 p.m.
Where: Portsmouth Book & Bar, 40 Pleasant St., Portsmouth ($5/door)

It’s a Gram thing
Joshua Incident play Americana

By Michael Witthaus

The Joshua Incident came together through kismet and chemistry. Singer-songwriter Todd Thurlow and bluegrass bassist John Halstead played frequently together in Seacoast clubs. Halstead knew Ann Norton, a Saint Anselm College English professor and singer in a classic rock covers band. Norton and guitarist Dan Beller-McKenna became fast friends via a Facebook thread about Richard Thompson. 

On a hot night in July 2013, the four connected for a jam, a one-off devoted to Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Something clicked during “Return To Grievous Angel,” Thurlow said in a recent phone interview. 
“It was an interesting mix of familiarity and not knowing each other and the excitement that that brings,” he said.
This felt particularly right when Norton and Thurlow’s voices met and mingled. In her honeyed soprano, Thurlow found an ideal foil — his Emmylou. The two began working on originals whenever they could, and it quickly became clear that something special was happening.
“She and I would meet in front of Stone Church. People were usually hanging around, and we’d ask them to listen,” said Thurlow. “When we got the harmony just right, you could see it touching them. To me that was just an amazing experience.”
Buttressed by Halstead’s sturdy upright bass and Beller-McKenna on lap steel, Dobro and guitar, it all comes together on the debut album from The Joshua Incident. Red is a lovingly crafted Americana soundscape, full of hope and sorrow, longing and regret. Thurlow’s lyrics owe a debt to his musical heroes – Parsons, of course, and Townes Van Zandt and contemporaries Ryan Adams and Gregory Alan Isakov. 
Elements of the grange hall country and western he grew up listening to in Penobscot County, Maine, inform the rest. For Thurlow, the lo-fi gem “Thimble Full of Happiness” conjures “the AM radio sound that I heard in my Dad’s lap riding in the car. … It kind of sounds a little bit thin, the recording of it, but that is exactly what we wanted.”
“Our Own Highway Song” is another standout that balances the dour present with a promising path ahead — a conscious dichotomy. The opening line — “That’s a road we should take” — started out as “could,” reports Thurlow, but it changed as he got to know the song.
“A great thing about songs is they teach you as you write them … and I wanted it to be a feeling about hope,” he said. “The point of view [is] someone from a small place who knows that the road and car sitting there could take him/her to anywhere.”
After spending over a year honing their chops playing Seacoast rooms, last November the band went into 1130ft Studio in Rollinsford. Engineered and mixed by Christopher Case, Red was completed in one take over a single day. 
“It’s a different way to record,” said Thurlow. “Most folks do track by track  … but we wanted to play it live so we can reproduce what we do wherever we are.”
One reason the band chose Case and his studio was his work with friends like Tan Vampires and Soggy Po’ Boys. 
“It was important to me to find someone ... used to doing different kinds of music,” Thurlow said. “I didn’t want a renowned folk or country person because what we do just goes through so many genres. I wanted someone that was recording interesting and different stuff.”
The band will hold a release party for the new record on Saturday, Feb. 28, at Portsmouth Book & Bar. 
“We’d like to perform throughout New England,” said Thurlow when asked about the road ahead. “Keep it fairly local, but get our songs out there, and get feedback to help me tailor the next recording.” 
As seen in the February 26, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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