Jerry Joseph doesn't beat around the bush. First thing he sings on Happy Book is "I've got to tell you / I'd really love to get high / Pour out my crackerjack / Cutting it straight to the prize." Not so intriguing, except for Joseph's public struggle with drug addiction. How annoying to be the reviewer who mentions that again, but the fact only adds to how guts-filled and genuine this album is. Besides the Jackmormons' tight musicianship, what makes it shine most is Joseph's deft compositionstartling songs full of battle scars, rendered in an uplifting way that makes you want to live better.
Joseph's vocals burn and snarl rock-god style, distantly reminiscent of David Bowie or Jimi Hendrix. In "Kicking Hong Kong," he offers a glowing yet lonely world of jade and gold, big lights, crowds, the ocean and temple monkeys. "Radio Cab" and "The Road Home" are country-flavored, perfect to accompany a coastal adventure in a VW bus along Highway 1. Here, Joseph is carefree but never escapist; he sings, "Place your finger right into my wounds / Call my name and howl it at the moon / Swear I'm gonna love you 'til I die." Even all the ark and whale and God references aren't off-puttinghe's no born-again preacher. This is his best album in his 20-year-plus music career.
Jerry Joseph & The Jackmormons play the Palace Thursday, March 22, at 9 PM with Dodgy Mountain Men. $8.