Joseph Huber – Tongues of Fire (Music Review)

Tongues of Fire cover

Joseph Huber – Tongues of Fire

Tongues of Fire is one of those situations that I find difficult to review: It features lackluster recordings of very good songs. It’s a solo effort by banjo player Joseph Huber, part of the now-defunct .357 String Band. And yes, “one part of something great” could describe this album. Featuring a more traditional country sound than .357 String Band usually had, Huber performs clear, acoustic songs that you could share with your grandmother. But the basic production gives everything a slightly reserved air, like a singer of a past era on his best behavior to perform on television. The upbeat songs have their wild edges sanded down, and the more reserved ones still have a peppy delivery. Overall, this has a bland sameness throughout, despite featuring the sort of variety that in theory should make it a well-rounded album.

The songs, though, prove that Huber remains a writer to watch. “Iron Rail” and “Walkin’ Fine” are the most fun of several contenders, while “Burden On the Wind” and “Hello, Milwaukee” provide quieter counterpoints. None provide especially memorable characters or slices of life, though “An Old Mountain Tune” comes close with its mix of nostalgia and knowing cynicism. (“I stole the words I used to get closer to you, while stealing the chords of an old mountain tune.”) And when the lyrics lack solid hooks, Huber’s music makes up for it.

Tongues of Fire is best heard in pieces. As one or two songs on a mix, it would feel fresh and interesting. As a full album, though, it’s unsatisfying despite the obvious quality. Maybe it’s the recording, or maybe Huber needs to figure out how to fill the roles that his old bandmates provided. Either way, it’s consistently ok.

Grade: C+

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