Before he moved to Music City, singer-songwriter, session player, and touring musician Joshua Rilko was making waves in the music scene in Michigan. As someone as deeply skilled and versatile as Rilko, it didn’t take long for him to catch on in his new town.
While much of his time playing was on behalf of other artists, Rilko has put together his very own LP, Lost Soul / Rock & Roll, which dropped this past December. The debut album expels an unquestionably unique musical journey, with the album being split into two sides as well as two genres –– bluegrass and rock ‘n’ roll.
Side A: Lost Soul is composed of bluegrass storytelling and instrumentation, which is performed by Jed Clark on guitar, George Guthrie (The Wooks) on banjo, Bronwyn Keith-Hynes (Molly Tuttle) on fiddle, Geoff Saunders (Sierra Hull) on bass, and the infamous Billy Strings featured on the album’s most contentious track, “Bullshit Mountain”.
Side A: Lost Soul’s opening track, “New Way to Fly” is nostalgic to bluegrass hits of the past, and draws inspiration from the classic John Hartford song, “Learning to Smile.” Rilko’s voice acts as a great narrator to his strong lyricism for this side of the album, and this can be especially heard in his introspective waltz, “When Springtime Comes”. The best way to sum up the storytelling of the album’s opening side is in the first verse of the track, where Rilko sings “I go with the wind / I just let it take me / It may bend me and break me / But it knows what I need.”
When it’s time to switch to Rilko’s Side B: Rock & Roll, it’s also time to turn up the volume and roll the windows down (okay maybe not in the dead of winter). He recruits his long time bandmates P.J. George III and Alex Bice to record the last six songs of the album, and their seasoned sense of musical collaboration is what makes these particular recordings stand out.
Side B: Rock and Roll’s opening track “Memories of Yesterday” is Rilko’s ode to the good old days with its nostalgic alternative instrumentation and bittersweet themes of growing older, change and acceptance. The song immediately takes the listener back to their own individual yesterday, with the opening lines, “All the bands on my tee shirt aren’t around anymore / At least I got to see them play a time or two before”. He keeps these bittersweet but hopeful feelings of the past going throughout this heartfelt song by drawing musical inspiration from the late Tom Petty.
A notable highlight from both sides of the album is the aforementioned track, “When Springtime Comes” along with “Waltz at My Speed,” because lyrically, they’re exactly the same, but are in completely different worlds sonically. On Side A: Lost Soul, “When Springtime Comes” is a lilting bluegrass waltz with lyrical melodies delivered by fiddle maestro Keith-Hines. However, on Side B: Rock & Roll, “Waltz at My Speed,” is a more blues and alternative influenced track that sounds similar to the early recordings of Otis Redding and Van Morrison, with modern sounds like Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit mixed in.
Joshua Rilko’s exceptionally unique dual-sided album is an incredible introduction to his own work, and the noteworthy collaborations on it speak volumes about his musicianship. Lost Soul / Rock & Roll is available for listening on all streaming platforms.