Album Reviews

Joe Driscoll – Origin Myths

(Buttercuts) UK release date: 20 November 2006

Despite hopes of ‘letting the music do the talking’, every new artist needs an angle and a route to market. Brooklyn rapper / beatboxer / guitarist Joe Driscoll is no different.

Half CD / Half promo DVD, Origin Myths presents the opening gambit of a slick new kid on the block who reputedly combines the relative disciplines of hip-hop, folk, reggae and something called Rock.

‘Presents’ being the operative word here, as Origin Myths should be retitled ‘Introducing The Hard Sell According To Joe Driscoll’. When the back cover rolls with ‘In a world of bullshit…music is all that matters’, a nation murmurs ‘tell it to the marines, bub’.

Driscoll himself is a one man band, though thankfully not in the Leo Sayer sense. Buyers are urged (not by me) to watch the accompanying DVD, in order to ‘really appreciate’ Driscoll through concert pieces, interviews and a bespoke video that promises to educate us about the educational potential of rhythm and poetry through rap.

Its difficult to see this worthy approach kicking it with fans of 50 Cent and Chamillionaire.

The best news is that when Origin Myths is left to speak for itself, Driscoll’s music easily transcends the suffocating sense of being overtly directed.

A little on the brief side (actually, it’s a lot on the brief side), Origin Myths showcases Driscoll’s talents in five pieces that almost justify the hyperbole. Not a slight on Driscoll you understand, just a comment on the coming-of-the-messiah promo excess.

Relying only on the god-given effects pedal that rests in his mouth and some sweet guitar trills and licks that would have made Curtis Mayfield weep with envy, Driscoll’s whizz-kid charm manages to step beyond the rebirth-of-the-cool-straightjacket that would otherwise condemn him solely to the pages of Straight No Chaser.

As Origin Myth itself details, Driscoll’s rap roots rest in the Native Tongues era when just for a moment it looked like hip-hop’s future lay in the hands of middle-class blacks freestyling sharp rhymes about peace, love and leaving wallets in El Segundo.

Driscoll’s love of Bob Marley is writ large throughout, no more visible than on the controlled anger of Grass Will Overcome. Railing against the ‘malls going up / people going down’, Driscoll’s polemics balance finely on the tightrope between sententiousness and righteousness, but the aim remains true throughout.

Just Us too has an unmissable roots-reggae orientation, but instead of beating a path to Zion, Driscoll (unless I’m reading him wrong) refreshingly proposes that humanity’s salvation lies on earth.

Pieced together with a Black Ark groove simultaneously echoing Barry Reynold’s guitar work for Island’s Compass Point recordings, Just Us is the kind of smart rap / reggae genre-bridging that Shinehead always promised but never truly delivered.

Driscoll doesn’t just stop there. Vision Strong houses some high-resister Beach Boy harmonies that, next to the ‘babylon strife don’t mean a thing to me’ anti-materialist rhymes, sound as avant as anything on Def Jux.

If Driscoll’s individualist stance can be reconciled against the heavy packaging Origin Myths has been saddled with, his music really will shine through.

He’s too sussed to take himself too seriously – why else would he admit to learning all of Vanilla Ice‘s dance moves? – and even though the magician-like beatboxing gets all the headlines, he could prove to be one of the most imaginative guitarists the new century has yet to unleash.

Even the skits don’t feel as self-indulgent as they do on most hip-hop records, but ultimately five short tracks do not an album make. Best to see what happens when the real debut album drops.

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More on Joe Driscoll
Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate @ Blind Tiger Club, Brighton
Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate – Faya
Joe Driscoll – Origin Myths