J.W. Schuller: “No Mud in Joyville” – an imitable ability to craft sonic gems

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Few times an albums strikes such an exquisite balance between compelling lyrics and an enticing sound. “No Mud in Joyville” scores five stars in its ability to balance out folk, Americana, indie and alternative with some solid lyrics, under the helm of singer-songwriter J.W. Schuller, and his cohort nephew Jens Larsen on drums and backing vocals. Mark Stockert, who has worked with the likes of Brian Setzer, Charlie Parr, Dead Man Winter, Chastity Brown, Noah Levy, and Martin Devaney, produced, recorded and mixed the album at Underwood Studios in Minneapolis, creating a magical recording that doesn’t get old, but rather becomes a classic with each new listen you give to it.

“No Mud in Joyville” has songs that are prime examples of how emotional expression through music can exceed the power of the most vivid and succinct lyric. And then it has songs that do exactly the opposite. Great art gives back with the time you invest in it. Nothing truly inspiring can be gleamed by a casual glance.

That’s the difference between J.W. Schuller and most trite, one dimensional radio tunes. If you appreciate great melodies, great storylines, organic sounding arrangements and music that means something deeper than a just a pop hook, this album has plenty to offer you.

It’s hard to pigeonhole J.W. Schuller in any other way other than his clear energy, when he’s on something upbeat like “Caterpillars” and “Whispers In The Morning”, or his intricate exercise of how to build atmosphere in “God & Everybody” and “Uncle Norm & The Ash Tree”. If “Poor Little Us” is the heart and soul, then the stunningly crafted “Mental Checklist” is the genius, twisted brain behind J.W. Schuller’s talent.

The intricate artistic lines weaving throughout “No Mud in Joyville” constitute J.W. Schuller’s creative detours on the record, one picking its way up through a sparkling jam, the other through hazy melodic charm, another chugging persistently through the rhythmic grit and the sound of a tuba,  yet another desperately tearing itself apart amid the acoustic-guitar strumming and Jens Larsen calamitous drums. All of this speaks to Schuller’s imitable ability to craft sonic gems that feel like he has just ripped them raw out of the studio not more than five minutes before.

Infectious, likeable melodies sit side by side with unexpectedly sinister and humorous lyrics; the catchiest of drumbeats and acoustic guitar flurries gets us jiving and ultimately singing along to songs like the titular track, “No Mud In Joyville”.

The multiplicity of ways that we can be made to tap our toes, sing along and feel good is to be ogled at. By no means does any of J.W. Schuller’s songs stick in your head because it’s simple – the remarkable depth of harmony and instrumentation is just as much part of the effervescence.

Parallel to the music, the lyrics stay delightfully sharp; the listener remembers them not only for the melodic appeal, but because of their clever, quick-to-catch ingenuity. Another one of J.W. Schuller’s merits, is his ability to get inside our heads and move us from the inside out.

He is impossibly good at injecting fresh gravitas into well-worn forms of indie folk. But to strip the album down to mechanics would do an injustice to “No Mud In Joyville”, and what’s more, it would be inaccurate. What really makes this recording tick is a generous sprinkling of addictive J.W. Schuller genius.

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