With one of the strongest debut albums in the Americana field in some time, Joseph Shipp seems bound for songwriting glory. It’s a must-hear.
Photo credit ~ Joshua Black Wilkins
Courtesy of Sarah J. Frost, New York ~ album release date October 28, 2022
NEW YORK – August 19, 2022 – Nashville-based singer-songwriter Joseph Shipp is a Renaissance man of sorts, adept at an array of creative fields: a musician, of course; an award-winning graphic designer; an accidental archivist; and a photographer who grew up around his parents’ photography business. After spending six formative years in the Bay Area, he and his wife moved back east to start a family—many of the songs on his new album Free, for a While (Oct. 28) center around the confusing, isolating time that followed. The first single, “Where You Are,” is out today.
“Where You Are” examines social anxiety: “it’s easy to lose touch with one’s place in the world when you never leave the house,” Shipp says. “I wrote this song in 2019, so it feels a little prescient since all the world would all be stuck at home the following year.”
Shipp, a 40-year-old Centerville, Tenn. native, had moved back home—or at least to nearby Nashville—after several years in northern California. Amid a turbulent time in the South, he found nothing really resembled what he had left. The 11-song Free, for a While, co-produced with Grammy-nominated Andrew Sovine (Ashley McBryde), offers Shipp’s own brand of Americana and is a catharsis that wrestles with his feelings of coming home, becoming a dad and the isolation and fear that followed.
“As I think about the album we created, I can’t help but think about where I was when I wrote all those songs: Alone and scared in an unfamiliar old house—a stranger in a familiar land,” he says.
“When I moved back to Tennessee with my wife, we ripped up some deep roots by leaving San Francisco. We bought a house in East Nashville, and I found myself feeling out of place and isolated. I worked from home and didn’t know many people, so I spent most of my time alone at home trying to finish up a book project,” Shipp says. “I also started writing songs again with the extra alone time.”
The book project Shipp mentions is called “A Community in Black & White: A Most Unusual Photo Album of One Southern Community,” published in 2018 as a collaboration with The Bitter Southerner. The book features over a hundred photos centered around Hickman County, Tenn., taken by Shipp’s paternal grandfather, who died before he was born. The photos crossed racial lines in the Jim Crow South, featuring Black and white folks in the community—uncommon for the time and setting.
“I’m very proud of my family history. In many ways, this is just one manifestation of that pride. I’m also proud of where I grew up,” Shipp told The Bitter Southerner back when the book was published. In the years and songs written since then, Shipp has clearly spent time wrestling with his feelings around these subjects—part of what Free, for a While centers around.
Free, for a While begins with “Rest Assured,” which Shipp describes as “like an apocalyptic fever dream played by a Baptist church band.” Lyrically, the song sets the scene for the rest of the album— a struggle with religion, helplessness, and isolation are all part of it.
Much of Free, for a While finds Shipp making sense of difficult pieces of life; “Only the Moon” examines grief and looks for answers during a difficult loss.
“Green Grows the Laurel” follows the political undercurrent that weaves throughout several of the album’s songs, though the connection is a bit abstract. The original British folk song seems to center around the fickleness of young love on its surface, but on a closer look, the color green also symbolizes Irish political loyalty. Shipp also added, “I lied to you / about how I feel” to the original lyrics, modernizing the track.
The album’s center point, “American Man,” grew into many things in its several iterations. What started as a satirical song about stereotypical southern American hyper-masculinity turned into a much subtler approach.
“Turned Into Someone Else” follows a main character who desires a bit of freedom for himself. “550 Sq Ft” is a straightforward love song for his wife and the apartment they left in San Francisco.
“Late October Mist” is a true story, a pandemic song, while the meaning of “dod” is up to its listener: “On the one hand, this song can be interpreted as a tale of a bitter lover; however, it can also be seen as a metaphor for darkness.”
Following a similar theme, “Beast in the Attic” is like a Brother’s Grimm-type folk tale; Shipp found it wasn’t hard to find inspiration in the current state of the world. “Lonely Youth” is the last song on the album, written about growing up as an only child. Reflecting on the release of his debut album, Shipp ponders a few thoughts: “I hope I can provide a voice that can potentially bridge the worlds between rural and urban, old and new. You can’t have one without the other, and each provides value. And sometimes, the way forward is through looking back.”