At the end of the Bible, John the Revelator writes one of the most apocalyptic, prophetic pieces of text in history. Though the book of Revelation is full of images and stories that conjure visions of the end of times, it also presents the culmination of this world as being a near-unfathomably beautiful worship gathering, featuring “a great multitude that no one could number, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” While the current state of America seems like it might be closer to the end times than it is to this divine party, it’s the balance of darkness and light, the battle between good and evil, that has made this book such an important text, regardless of difference in faith or belief.
On Jerry Joseph’s new record, The Beautiful Madness, he walks the line between darkness and light, good and evil, and does so masterfully as he somehow speaks into the current realities of life with songs that were written well before a virus ravaged the globe and the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd erupted protests and movements in the name of justice.
In other words, The Beautiful Madness is both prophetic and apocalyptic, quickly becoming a revelation for all who have ears to hear.
“Putting down the torch, surrender to the swell,” Joseph sings on opening track, “Days of Heaven.” “Ready for the dive, these are the days of heaven.” Co-written with Drive-By Truckers’ founding member Patterson Hood (who also produced the album), “Days of Heaven” sets the foundation for what’s to come on the rest of the record: living life on the brink of beautiful madness.
Throughout the new album, that madness journeys from the personal to the corporate. On “Sugar Smacks” — a track Hood says is “the most punk rock song I’ve heard in 20 years” — Joseph sets his focus on Washington, D.C., and beyond with a perspective that harkens Lou Reed’s New York. Though there’s an unforgettable novel found inside the track, it may be best summed up in the jarring lyric, “It’s a scary fucking world when you can’t tell the pigs from the priests.”
“Sugar Smacks” is followed by “Dead Confederate,” a song that rings with the prescient voice of The Bottle Rockets’ “Wave That Flag.” Written four years ago — four years ago — Joseph assumes the role of a Confederate statue, exclaiming that he “ain’t sorry, ain’t regretting it,” and admitting without a hint of repentance, “Buying, selling humans was good work if you could get it / Well, the South could build great pyramids or rise up if you let it.” Jason Isbell lends a hand by offering his slide guitar skills to the haunting track, and unsurprisingly, has heaped praise on the song, calling it one of his top five tracks about the South.
While these songs tend to highlight the madness of the world, there is plenty of beauty on the new album. “Black Star Line” is a nod to the great David Bowie, written the night he died. “Good,” though bleak and seemingly hopeless at times, wraps up with the exhortation, “You said you’re seeking something bigger, I think you should / It’s up to us now to deliver, and make it good.”
Fortunately, Joseph is far from alone on his venture; Hood not only sat in the producer’s chair and lent a writing hand on a couple of tunes, he was also joined by his Truckers band to back Joseph throughout The Beautiful Madness (Hood’s co-founder and co-frontman Mike Cooley even shows up on “Sugar Smacks” and “Bone Towers”). But no matter who joins him, Joseph remains the revelator of this story, and it is one that will continue to find new life with every twist and turn this country, and world, takes.