March 4, 2016

Music Review By Jennifer Criss: "Joshua Powell and the Great Train Robbery"

Jennifer Criss graduated from Ball State University with a minor in Creative Writing, a life long passion.  She is currently collaborating on an anthology for older adults and helps lead a writing support group. Jennifer writes mostly short stories but has discovered a love for writing poetry.  Her poetry has been published in Poebita Magazine. She now works at Ball State, is a busy mother of two girls, but her pen keeps moving. She is an editorial assistant with Indiana Voice Journal.


 Joshua Powell and the Great Train Robbery

I think it was some time in July of 2014 when I was checking out the lineup of a local music festival that I happened upon something amazing. You can't go to all the concerts even if you want to.  We'd just been to the Forecastle Festival in Kentucky and were wiped out. We are not as young as we used to be.  Still, we thought we might hit one more- a small one to end our summer.  I wish I remembered which festival it was now, but I just can't recall.  What I do remember is discovering Joshua Powell and the Great Train Robbery featured on that local lineup.  The name caught my eye, of course, but what I also noticed was that they hailed from Anderson, IN. Seriously?  No one is from here. No one.  So, I did what I normally do and checked them out on YouTube.  I was enchanted.  Friends close to me would say it was the hair.  It WASN'T the hair.  

    I can remember the first video I encountered.  Joshua Powell was playing with his brother, Jacob, in "Principles of Salt" which would become my favorite song of theirs all the way up until their newest album Alyosha was released.  This song appears on an EP entitled, The Commonwealth.  We didn't end up going to the aforementioned festival, but I would immediately purchase their album Traveler (2012) on Amazon.  It was the first one I found, but it wasn't until I purchased Man Is Born for Trouble (2013) that I became hooked.  I suppose when I discover a new band (new to me, that is) I fall hard and drive everyone around me completely nuts ("You HAVE to hear this song!")  After a year and a half of listening and a third album, Alyosha (2015) - I'm still obsessed with the music.  It's on heavy rotation and even my kids request it and sing along. I assure you, though, we can't come close to Joshua's powerful voice. It’s like he puts everything he has into each song.

    Joshua Powell wasn't born in Indiana, but moved here to attend college and the band began here in 2011. There have been several cast changes since then, including his brother Jacob, but the backbone has remained the same.  It's evolved into what he calls "Psychedelic Folk."  I don't care what it's called, I love it and I love every new album even more than the last. I hear influences of Justin Vernon from Bon Iver and a bit of Damien Jurado in some places, but Joshua Powell has a really unique sound that I've really never heard before. His music carries bits of the political and spiritual, although literary qualities dominate his work.  The album “Alyosha” was actually inspired by a Dostoyevsky novel. Joshua's lyrics mean something. I have a disdain for lyrics that mean absolutely nothing. It's true, songs can be catchy without being meaningful.  We mindlessly bob our heads to a top 40 hit on the radio, but when we really listen we realize, "This shit's awful."   

There are so many songs on the new album that speak to me for one reason or another, but I would have to say that the one that hits me the most would be "Indiana."  Even though Joshua is a transplant, he sees what's happened here and has chosen to see the beauty of this place- a town that would seem is on the verge of death.   I, too, tend to take it for granted.


From the salvage yard, there are two black dogs who run
Through the post-harvest fields of winter wheat as stalks

Running on last legs

From the GM plant and the empty storefronts' lull
All the finches, quick, are undressed inside their song
Of a sad place to love

Well the houses are matchsticks after everyone left
But the soil is good and we're not dead yet

Open up the motorbike/burning down the turnpike
Perfect lines, effortless

Keep me in your hidden thoughts where every road  
That ever crossed
Had council held with the snow/resting easy-
this is home

This is home

With the husk of Delco heavy in the loom.  
Will there always be just as many empty rooms

    There are so many great songs on this record. It's nearly impossible to pick a favorite. They really all are, but, if forced, I'd pick "Birth Control"  and "The Farmer and the Viper."  Or maybe “Gunfighter Ballad for the 21st Century.”   See? It’s just too hard to pick. The song "Telekenesis" recently gained attention for being featured on the ABC show "Blood and Oil."   

     You can also hear his music playing in your local Starbucks. Joshua Powell has played hundreds of shows across 40 states with and without a band over the last few years.  Supposedly, January began a brand new era with a new bad.  I can only imagine the great things to come as more people discover them.  I urge you to check them out when they hit a city near you.  I'm actually missing a show in Indianapolis as we speak. You can also visit:, check out their Facebook page, or lose yourself in their YouTube videos as I did.  I truly feel like this guy and whoever he takes with him on his journey deserves some serious attention and a place on everyone's playlist.
~Jennifer Criss

Total Pageviews