by Jordan Green
Josh Moore and his band took the stage at the Garage in Winston-Salem on June 6 for the inaugural outing of the material on his new album Parted Ways.
Rows of plastic chairs lined in front of the stage hinted that this would be far from a rowdy hardcore show. Wearing skinny jeans that recalled the style of his youth, Moore’s eyes shone with the same piercing gaze of his days as a hardcore frontman. But a full, bushy, red beard signaled the new path of the past 10 years.
Moore follows a time-honored evolution in North Carolina music from punk rock to country. It’s a logical path for a musician primarily interested in authenticity.
The first and most significant example is Whiskeytown, which laid a plank for Raleigh in the alt-country movement of the mid-1990s, and whose frontman Ryan Adams had played in the punk band Patty Duke Syndrome previously. Primarily inspired by the country rock of Gram Parsons, Adams’ singing on Whiskeytown’s second album displayed flashes of Paul Westerberg’s reckless inebriate punk-rock howl. More recently and locally, Winston-Salem’s Caleb Caudle transitioned from punk bands inspired by the Clash to Steve Earle-style folk with a sound that has developed into something very much like mainstream country.
Josh Moore rose to prominence as vocalist for the Triad post-hardcore band Beloved, founded around the turn of the millennium in Kernersville. (Incidentally, twin brother Ian Moore took a slightly different route as lead singer of the now-defunct street-punk band Queen Anne’s Revenge.)
Beloved played with a slightly harder edge than a brace of bands that elaborated on an exuberant pop-punk template established earlier by Jimmy Eat World. What Beloved shared with peers from the North Carolina and Virginia Piedmont like Sullivan, Far-Less and the Necessary was energetic delivery, emotional directness and a sense of camaraderie between performers and audience.
Following Beloved’s final show in Winston-Salem in early 2005, Josh Moore eventually wound up in Carrboro and immersed himself in acoustic singer-songwriter music. When he started writing songs as a solo artist, Moore took cues from people like the late Jason Molina and Iris DeMent. He played music continuously after the breakup of Beloved, collaborating with a group of like-minded musicians in the Triangle, but only in January 2013 did he start recording his first solo album. By then he had a go-to group of players, including bassist Jeff Crawford, who also recorded and produced the record, which was recorded incrementally: Moore would write songs and go into the studio to record them one by one until the album was complete. The result, Parted Ways, will be self-released on CD this week, with vinyl following in July.
Armed with an acoustic guitar, Moore was joined onstage at the Garage by Crawford on bass, along with Ryan Gustafson on electric guitar, James Wallace on drums, Chessa Rich on keyboards and Mark Simonson, who coaxed a warm organ-like sound from a Crumar synthesizer. Like his Triangle cohorts Loamlands and Mount Moriah, Moore’s music is built around a voice and an acoustic guitar, with a warm sound filled out through additional instrumentation. Put forth without angst or dissonance, the music often rocks, with tinges of country and soul cropping up here and there.
Josh Moore possesses a warm, luxuriant voice, almost a contralto, that wraps around the reflective confessionals of his lyrics. During his performance at the Garage on June 6, Crawford and Wallace’s rhythm section gently kicked beneath the melody line, while Gustafson provided tasteful filigree with lead guitar and Rich and Simonson fleshed out the songs with keyboard signatures that were textured and soaring by turns. With Crawford and Rich’s voice adding gentle harmony to Moore’s lead, not to mention the interplay of keyboards with country-tinged folk guitars, comparisons with Whiskeytown seem almost inevitable.
The reflective cast of Moore’s songwriting didn’t hamper the dynamic interplay of the band. As the evening progressed, Wallace’s drumming displayed increasing commitment and the band’s tight arrangements rocked around bracing melodic signatures. Skylar Gudasz, whose opening set showcased jazz- and old-time-influenced vocals with a pop-savvy sense of melody, accompanied Moore’s band on flute for a handful of songs, furthering the collaborative spirit of the show. She also contributed sympathetic harmony vocals.
The trenchant tone of Moore’s voice along with occasional flourishes of organ called to mind Bob Dylan in “Ballad of a Thin Man” mode, albeit without the caustic edge.
Despite the billing of the new album, Moore’s strongest theme is reconciliation.
“It’s easy coming, and it’s easier going,” he sang in his rendition of the title track during his performance at the Garage. “When you’re lost without knowing where to begin/ And I count my blessings, each and every one/ I was taking for granted all that we had/ So many days like this, all down the line/ We could mend our parted ways….”