Armed mainly with a guitar and harmonica, Central Ohio-based singer-songwriter Joel Walter examines the core of blue-collar life via portraits of broken souls worn down by hard living and the lost dreams that are often buried within them. His debut full-length album, Heart of Branches, portrays these lost souls unsparingly, illuminating their fractured desperation and frustration yet always celebrating their fiery will to get by and survive.
‘Heart of Branches’ comprises a collection of wearily reflective songs written and recorded over the past two years. Bleak, bitter, yet hopeful; Walter's songs have an austerity that you discover via his honest vocal delivery even before you experience it in the songwriting itself. Walter’s singing is raspy and unbridled, and the intricate yet uncluttered arrangements on his debut provide the perfect aural setting for them to shine.
Weaving together sounds both classic and modern, the tapestries of voice, guitar, and harmonica, sometimes augmented by mandolin, piano, and Magnus, add luminous musical textures to the power of the songwriting, itself revealed to be sometimes lyrical, sometimes ominous, but always haunting.
The opener ‘Bleeding Hands’ immediately establishes these strengths and the sense of unrelenting weight that permeates throughout the rest of the album. From the defeated memories contained in ‘Photo Album’ and ‘Went Home’ to the volatile contempt overflowing in ‘William Clay’, Walter’s songwriting somehow always still finds the beauty in survival, regardless of the degree of dejection. The honest reflection revealed in both ‘Leaves’ and the bittersweet ‘Swimming’ only add to the exquisitely complex emotions contained in the album. These sentiments are even further examined in the desolate anger of ‘Snake’, the gentle pauses of the two ‘Magnus’ instrumentals, and the crushingly beautiful and epic final track ‘Heart of Branches’, transcendent in its mixture of stark emotions and ghost-like instrumentation.