“I was raised in Tennessee by a Jewish, New York Deadhead…”
This sentence alone conveys just about as much as you need to know about 26-year-old Nashville guitarist Josh Halper and his debut album Alrightnik. Referring to his father, Halper isn’t all that surprised to have found himself in a life built off playing music. At this point, that’s quite expected of basically anyone who takes the streets of Music City. Unlike most, however, Halper doesn’t particularly consider himself to be a songwriter. But maybe you could be the judge of that instead.
A classically trained Belmont graduate who’s notoriously known as “Sweetbaby Josh,” Halper made his rounds recording and performing in three local bands – Honey Locust, Big Surr, and Western Medication – while simultaneously building a reputation for himself as a dependable player and friendly face during studio sessions with other various artists. In the midst of it all, Halper began to write and arrange a project he would later get to call his own, leaning on his preference for fingerstyle nylon-stringed guitar and Randy Newman rip-off songs to help him in his creative process. What came out of it was a charming fusion of sarcastic self-reflections, nostalgic scenery, intense sorrow, and shameless joy.
Alrightnik opens with a distinguished rendition of Newman’s “Dayton, Ohio – 1903” before speechless introspections and lyrical refrains unite in the form of eight Halper originals. Sitting in his repertoire since 2012, the first second of “Whale in a Field” makes you anticipate something satirical with its bluesy drone, but before you know it, the melancholy lyrics paint a metaphorical picture of isolation, and loneliness: “And they don’t know how it feels/ To be lost for breath/ With no one except myself”. As a highlight of the album, Halper profoundly illustrates one of the most brutally relatable emotions of the human experience.
Never fear, we do get to see Halper’s sense of humor ring out in other tracks like “Honest Feeling,” one of the few songs off the record that melds in the gentlest pinch of southern twang. “Who Knows” depicts a classic state of youthful recklessness that we are all prone to inhabit at one point or another – waking up one morning only to forget everything you did the night before. Halper even includes a two-second track titled “Thanks Cam” where this supposed “Cam” offers assurance: “You’re doing great.”
Interwoven throughout are instrumental pieces like the elegantly classical “Desperation Waltz” and the jazzy and idyllic “Prelude in B Minor.” But the greatest impression comes from the luminescent “Reflection,” where its harmonious guitar licks and resonant percussive elements sound more than just a nod to William Tyler. As someone who equates the value of instrumentals to any melody sung, this track stuck with me right from the jump. Saturated in the warmth of a replenishing hug, it’s here that Halper truly reveals the remarkable talent he possesses.
The title, Alrightnik, is an American-Yiddish slang term for a successful person, but with a nouveau riche twist. Sly and slightly self-deprecating, the title is a reproach for a musician with “a penchant for bolo ties and shirts with eye-popping patterns.” But this same musician managed to stay afloat while wading in the clutter of life’s debris, thriving at the high tides and conquering the low. Halper’s album provides a haven for our chaotic mess to coexist in tranquillity.