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Camden Joy, 'Rerouting'

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Published May 25, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.


Camden Joy, Rerouting - COURTESY
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  • Camden Joy, Rerouting

(Self-released, digital)

I have seldom had a more engrossing experience reviewing an album than I did with Camden Joy's latest offering, Rerouting. The project is a hot and tangled mess of lo-fi primitivism, joyfully juvenile catharsis and deep, abiding sorrow. And a lot of accordion.

Camden Joy is the pseudonym of a long-established music writer-turned-musician, an alter ego that has grown into a legend all its own. While I must acknowledge that Middlebury resident Tom Adelman exists, he's a footnote in his own story now, much like Minnesota native Robert Zimmerman: a ghost.

What we're left with is a writer bursting at the seams. Camden Joy is both chameleon and oracle here, his tone ranging from archly literate sarcasm to dead-earnest heartache. Even seemingly passing ditties such as "Starling" and "Today's the Day" reveal his pursuit of something perfect and pure, Old Testament, cut to the bone.

This is more than just natural talent at work. Camden Joy followed the river to the source, spending decades immersed in centuries of Americana — and not in the contemporary sense of coffeehouse-safe acoustic product. I mean the full-spectrum mythopoeic cultural earthquake of folk into country, blues into rock, novelty hits into pop stuff.

So, yeah, about the actual music. Jokes aside, Elizabeth Steen is an excellent accordion player. The rhythm section here is suitably dirty and loose, and every track sounds like a relic from another time. At the center of it all stands the fact that Camden Joy is a confidently bad singer. Clearly well aware, he leans into it playfully on song after song.

That may be a problem for many listeners, but the roughness suits his music. Rerouting harks back to garage bands cutting DIY singles by any means necessary, back to Moses Asch and Harold Courlander seeking out the flame keepers of dying musical traditions and recording them in their homes. These were not "American Idol" contestants; they were American icons.

For all that erudition, though, Camden Joy remains a strange dude making strange music. This is an album that starts off with a short song about kidnapping his ex's kid, then launches into a scatological dis track to the Trump administration. Things improve considerably from there.

"My Last Great Rise and Fall" and "Killing Shoes" are two outstanding back-to-back short stories steeped in vast mystery. "Nobody Knows" takes a completely different tack, channeling another voice from another time. My personal favorite is "Jimmy and Me Driving 99," a bleak road trip packed with dazzling non sequiturs.

I listened to all of it, many times over, and I checked out his earlier albums, too. Like I said, engrossing.

It's strange: I cannot honestly say I like Camden Joy's music, yet I'm still a fan. I want to sit at a bar with him and talk about Freddy Fender and Eddie Noack. Presumably, he would consider that a success.

Rerouting by Camden Joy is available at camdenjoy.bandcamp.com.

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