Seldom have I had a more captivating experience reviewing an album than with Camden Joy’s latest offering, Diversion. The project is a warm, tangled mess of lo-fi primitivism, gleefully youthful catharsis, and deep, enduring heartbreak. And a lot of accordion.
Camden Joy is the pseudonym of a long-established music writer turned musician, an alter ego who became a legend in his own right. Although I must admit that Middlebury resident Tom Adelman existhe is now a footnote in his own story, much like Minnesota native Robert Zimmerman: a ghost.
What we’re left with is a jam-packed writer. Camden Joy is equal parts chameleon and oracle here, her tone ranging from high-literate sarcasm to heartfelt heartache. Even seemingly fleeting ditties such as “Starling” and “Today’s the Day” reveal his pursuit of something perfect and pure, the Old Testament, cut to the bone.
It’s more than just a natural talent at work. Camden Joy has followed the river to the source, spending decades immersed in centuries of Americana – not in the contemporary sense of a cafe-safe acoustic product. I mean the full-spectrum mythopoetic cultural earthquake from folk to country, blues to rock, novelty to pop stuff.
So yeah, about actual music. Joking aside, Elizabeth Steen is an excellent accordionist. The rhythm section here is suitably dirty and loose, and every track sounds like a relic from another time. At the center of it all is the fact that Camden Joy is a confident bad singer. Clearly well aware, he playfully leans into it, song after song.
This may be a problem for many listeners, but the roughness suits his music. Diversion reminiscent of garage bands cutting DIY singles by any means necessary, back to Moses Asch and Harold Courlander finding the flame keepers of dying musical traditions and recording them at home. They weren’t “American Idol” contestants; they were American icons.
Despite all that scholarship, Camden Joy is still a weird dude who makes weird music. This is an album that begins with a short song about the kidnapping of her ex’s son, then launches into a scatological speech against the Trump administration. Things improve considerably from there.
“My Last Great Rise and Fall” and “Killing Shoes” are two back-to-back exceptional short stories steeped in vast mystery. “Nobody Knows” takes a completely different approach, channeling another voice from another time. My favorite is “Jimmy and Me Driving 99”, a dark road trip filled with dazzling non-sequences.
I listened to everything, several times, and I also looked at his previous albums. As I have said, captivating.
It’s strange: I honestly can’t say that I to like Camden Joy’s music, yet I’m still a fan. I want to sit in a bar with him and talk about Freddy Fender and Eddie Noack. Presumably, he would consider this a success.
Diversion by Camden Joy is available at camdenjoy.bandcamp.com.