Updated: Jun 1, 2020
With the soulful voice of Woody Guthrie and the raw lyricism of Bob Dylan who is this British folk singer?
He may have elements of Guthrie and Dylan, but this singer has a natural talent, an unedifying voice that has a gravel of strength. A sound that can only be someone born in the deep west, through years of upheaval and whisky drinking smoker. Haunting with a bitterness of regret while still managing to have a sense of hopefulness.
No one is quite sure what is happening in music at the moment. Without a clear sense of direction, Josh O’Keefe is the very present and still voice we need. Like an aged whiskey in the hand of a 90-year old man. O’Keefe is wise in his voice; one you only get from someone of a certain age. He doesn’t try so hard, doesn’t try to sound older and gravelly, it’s a natural ability that creates a historical gift that forms a story through poetry.
A defining sound that you hear every complexity with the simplicity of classic folk. Forming and merging it for a very modern audience. Brutality and sheer awareness for exactly what is happening in life at the moment. Relatability to lyrics that like an open sore leave you to question culture and the way people act.
He’s actually a young chap from the UK, Derby to be exact. So how can someone with such power and awareness in his voice make you second guess everything you’ve heard?
He doesn’t try to sound from the Midwest, he embodies the Midwest. Without actually realising he is British he has already taken you through an America story of lyricism.
O’Keefe is himself. He has an emotional range that transports you to a time of quality and rawness. Dust gathering on the old wooden tables and chairs, a tiny house situated in the middle of nowhere. All but an old man sitting outside on the steps leading up to the crackling, old grey house.
These are all things that come flooding in when listening to O’Keefe.
On Friday 29th May, Josh released his album, 'Bloomin'. A poignant series of songs, almost a letter to life at the moment. With the "powerful opener", 'We are all the same' there is a sense of understanding that connects people to one song. You have to really let the lyrics sink in, they are more than just poetic, they cleverly signify a movement in time. Being the watcher on culture and how he fits within it. He is the singer who is doing more than create songs made for pop charts. There is a sense of need and importance in 'Bloomin'. One that hasn't been heard in music since the days of 1960s protesting.
You can connect to him in many ways, he embodies the feelings of the working class. An enriching embodiment of class and history through his iconic words. Particularly ‘Son of the working class’ there’s a proudness to his words. A defining sense of companionship and belonging to a community. For someone so young, he certainly creates a sense of home and time before he could even imagine. Blending the clear Derby voice and stories of his youth with the classic American soul of the west. Rich and deep, embedded with a sense of travelling.
That’s what draws you in about him. He looks like a modern James Dean, yet has elements of sound with Dylan, Guthrie and Ralph McTell. However, he’s also simply himself. It’s very distinguishing and grounded. He doesn’t necessarily speak to you like a soppy love song. He is speaking to someone in particular and that is even more powerful. There’s a journal of stories through one lyric. One note.
There’s a sense of relatability. Laid-back emotional cry in his voice yet cutting you off just as you want more. Letting you know just enough about him. Not giving too much away about himself. Instead putting everything we need to know in his songs. With a sense of constant travelling, movement, whilst enriching you with words that identify with any given moment. Folk stands still, it is more than being classic, it is reliable. The rawest form of music, where you strip everything back and you're left with the singer and the instrument. It puts the voice on the line where you have to rely on the words themselves. That's the beauty of O'Keefe, a sense of being the clearest voice in a world surrounded by mania and noise. He is the folk that is both modern yet rich in the past.
Josh O’Keefe is on the fringe of society. He is how his songs describe life; he is a grafter. Someone who knows exactly what it is like to belong and yet be alone. He is better than anyone could wish or want. Because he is on the fringe the appreciation for him is that bit more. He encompasses and describes the feelings that many cannot let out. Merging elements of British folk with the backbone of the Midwest while simplifying everything with his sandy voice.
O’Keefe is everywhere you want him to be. Delivering past with present while managing to understand where society is heading. Looking out onto the world while sitting bravely on the side-lines to document everything in its raw material. Josh has to sit on behind everyone else. He has to be part of the silent majority otherwise he wouldn’t deliver the calm within the storm.
What will O’Keefe do next? Who knows!?
One thing is for sure, if he keeps on delivering the sound of life through his dirty, raw, powerful songs, he’s on his way to become the poetic sound of society.
'Bloomin' by Josh O'Keefe: