Joshua Burnside’s debut Ephrata is an essential for 2017

EphrataEmerging singer-songwriter Joshua Burnside has taken the time to hone his craft, and his patience shows on debut album Ephrata. Borne out of the artist's native Northern Ireland, alongside travels to and from Scotland and Columbia, the full-length seamlessly combines elements of music that he's found across the globe, sometimes within the same track. But as much as the style of the album represents new beginnings for Burnside, Ephrata takes in the earworm melody that's punctuated his work since the release of his 2013 EP If You're Going That Way. Combined, the result is an impressive and year-defining release.

Burnside's press so far has been heavily influenced by the fact that Ephrata was written while the Irishman visited his cousin in Columbia, following a breakup with his partner in Glasgow. It's suitably international as a result. The hot and sticky influence of South America is blatant even to someone who's never visited the continent, and songs such as the eponymous track "Tunnels Pt. 1" and "Fightorfight" all wear the Latin music tag proudly on their sleeve. There's also something in the heady production that resembles a fight with stifling heat, being a stranger in a bustling local place and having the feeling of the sun on your cheek. However Burnside and Ephrata's producers have achieved this wizardry, it's a clever studio tactic that sees the Columbian influence through even when it's not obviously present.

The consistency of the production also allows Burnside to honour his Irish folk routes without jolting between genres. This part of his resume plays its biggest role in the epic and beautiful closing track, "The Good Word", as well as the Damien Rice-esque duet, "Holllllogram", sung with Alana Henderson. Elsewhere the stripped-down Americana of Burnside's previous material can be heard through "Blood Drive" and "The Unrequited Kind", and album highlight "Tunnels Pt. 2" proves he can kick it up a notch like the best of them, drawing a comparison to Inform-Educate-Entertain era Public Service Broadcasting. The Eastern European waltz of "26th St" might sound like a totally mad addition on paper, but by the time the track comes in midway through Ephrata, it's already been made abundantly clear that Joshua Burnside does not follow the rules. That's one of the many things that makes Ephrata so great.

On an album that's so technically accomplished, it's a very welcome surprise to find the lyricism is just as deft. Death, religion, and love might sound like broad topics, but Burnside manages to write a lifetime's worth of wisdom into Ephrata, and he does so with outstanding poetic skill. "Blood Drive" sets a deliciously gothic scene from the simple tale of a blood donation making someone feel anxious, while "26th St" takes a more traditional storytelling route by way of gun shots and stabbings in the wrong part of town. Then there's the aforementioned "Holllllogram", with its delicate and personable memory of falling in love with someone who lives on the other side of the lake. Burnside lists Sun Kil Moon as one of his favourite artists, but if he keeps up at this rate, he'll soon surpass Mr. Kozelek in reputation for being a one-of-a-kind songwriter.

If you can't tell yet, I really love this album. Ephrata has revived in me a love for music that I thought had faded with age and the pressure of having to listen to new music on a daily basis. But it's not gone, it's most definitely still there, and I'm extremely grateful to Joshua Burnside for sharing such an amazing piece of work with the world. Please go buy it!

Release: 5th May 2017, Quiet Arch Records

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