CD Review: Joshua Panda (first published at Blogcritics.org)
In a July interview, eclectic folk singer Joshua Panda describes himself as a “sing-aholic” blessed to do what he loves for a living. If his new, self-titled album is any indication, his audiences are equally blessed. The CD’s thirteen tracks are made up of a dozen original compositions and a rousing cover of Tom Waits’ “Come on Up to the House,” that ends the album with smash’em out coda. Panda’s originals run the gamut from country and Cajun to gospel and rock, from raucous, story ballad and quiet lament to the powerful anthem. His joy and his passion are infectious, whether he is romping through some rocking zydeco to a bouncing piano and accordion background or softly lamenting life’s roadblocks to a sweetly punctuating guitar. His energy is infectious.
The CD programs the songs to emphasize variety. “Masquerade,” the opening song on the album, is a dynamic anthem with an infectious hook and Panda belts it out with dramatic passion. There are times at the end of the song, when he sounds a little bit like the young Bob Dylan as he wails out the warning that the ace of spades can sometimes be a joker. This is followed by a complete change of pace with the Cajun echoes of “Rosie,” and then the plaintive lament of “It’s All Relative,” where there is solace for life’s troubles when love lets down her hair. Next come two country tunes: the wailing “Are You Hurting at All” (think Patsy Cline, as others have noted), and “Pastor,” a boisterous reminder to beware the hypocrite.
There are songs that echo the outlaw booze and broads ethos like “Tattle Tales,” a song with a gospel feel that flies against its message, and the quaintly rhymed “Lemonhead Wine.” “I-77” is a Southern rocker with some piano licks that could have been played by Jerry Lee Lewis or Little Richard. “Thomas” is one of those lost buddy songs that bring back memories Kris Kristofferson. In a word this is an album that takes the listener in almost as many directions as there are songs. There is something for almost everyone, and that something is always good.
The band on the album features Pete Weiss on accordion and Brian Axford on upright piano. Lowell Thompson sings backup vocals and plays electric guitar. Upright bass is long time Panda collaborator Ed Grasmeyer. Joe Grass plays a variety of strings including the mandolin and banjo. Electric bass is Jarrod Atkinson, the drums are handled by Bucky Wheaton, and Josh Zubot plays the fiddle.
Panda is currently touring in support of the album. Called “The Great Busking Tour,” Panda likes to arrive a day or so early and do a little outreach in the streets to help develop his audience. In the fall he will be in Tennessee and North Carolina as well as West Virginia, Maryland, Vermont, Pennsylvania and New York. Details are available on his website.