Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. An impressionable young singer-songwriter from a middle-of-nowhere town hops a freight train and heads west with a guitar on his back, a copy of Bound for Glory in his satchel, and a batch of dusky self-penned folk songs in his head. It’s a story so archetypal, it feels like a founding American myth, taken from the same scroll of history that gave us devils at the crossroads and punks in the beerlight.
Of course, the archetypal nature of the story doesn’t mean it’s untrue, only that it was a story compelling enough to convince Joseph Childress to pack up and leave Teller County, Colorado, for the Bay Area when he was still a teenager. There, he distributed a CD-R of his songs to anyone who’d take them, and his deft acoustic storytelling won him dates with a who’s-who of contemporary folk stars: Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart, Mount Eerie, Kevin Morby.
Now, Childress is preparing to release his second album, a self-titled collection based around his further adventures out west, where he’s found work on a cattle ranch in Wyoming, lived out of his car, and, if “Virginia Bound” is to be believed, been practically chased to the grave by a father protecting his daughter’s good name. What makes the song (which we’re premiering today) special isn’t the story itself, but Childress’s pure joy in telling it. As with his own life story, it’s a tale we’ve heard before—rambler meets girl, they fall in love, Dad’s not pleased—but Childress embodies it wholly, neatly skirting the po-faced heartbreak that such a conceit might seem to warrant. Instead, when he rounds into the first chorus with the realization that his character’s life might be in danger, he leads his band into a splashy, fiddle-led moan that feels more like an exaltation than a lamentation; to be young is to be sad is to be alive, to paraphrase Ryan Adams, and Childress here is alive to the edges of his being. You can give “Virginia Bound” a listen below.
Joseph Childress is out October 6 via Empty Cellar. You can preorder the album here.