He's Back: Rugged and Ready

Joel Timothy
Broken Cage (Blue Spot Records)

By Tim Roberts

So where has this guy been for seven years?

He charmed us in back 1999 with his Live at the Bunbury Theater set, the ear X-tacy recording full of passionate ballads and stories, the kind of honest songwriting that puts a crimp into the overt cynicism and pontifications of a lot of today's music, the kind that reminds us that songs are stories (and sometimes vice-versa) that ask for your attention.

But somewhere between then and now he's grown some stubble and started wearing a black hat. His attitude's grown a little darker. But there's still honesty in everything he sings.

He's Louisville's Joel Timothy and he's back with a rugged set of songs in Broken Cage.

Known for years in Louisville as a jingle and film-score composer, his songwriting stretches far past the limitations imposed by having to write about fried chicken and garbage bags and he pulls that skill in a new direction with Broken Cage.

That direction's starting point is in the opening track, "It's a Sin to Be Broke on a Saturday Night," where Timothy layers his gargle-with-pine-needles voice over a backing track of mandolin and a simple rhythm from bass and guitar. It is followed by some dusky twang and vibrato with "Nashville Girls." It's the flipside of the Lovin' Spoonful's "Nashville Cats," claiming that the reason they play like they do is because they're loved by the girls in the song's title, not because they've been playin' since they's babies.

And what's a borderline country recording without a couple of train songs. Timothy gives us two: "Racing the Train" and "Salvation Train." The first has the bouncy click-a-clack rhythm customary for the genre, while the second is an exploration of the quest we take for salvation and all the fears that enwrap us as we seek. We are vulnerable on that quest, afraid the train will pull from the station and all we're left with is our sadness and a ticket that can't be used anywhere else again.

But all is not dour in the Broken Cage. There's a genuine love song in "Tie Me to Your Heart," some finger-snappy spiritual pop with "Stand in the Light," and "A Statue of Mozart Face-Down in My Garden," which poses ageless and unanswerable questions about how and why we create. Specifically, how and why songwriters come up with their stuff. They are questions the statue can't answer. Not because it is face down in the mud, but because it has been set in stone.

Or because it yet to find a way to break out of a cage.

And that is a challenge that performers who care about their careers face. Joel Timothy could have been one of the nameless composers churning out songs to sell hot dogs, or he could have remained a troubadour with nothing but his stories, an acoustic guitar and a small receptive audience night after night after night. On Broken Cage, however, Timothy has created a country and pop gem, a crossover masterpiece. Something that shows another side of his skills.

Skills that can break all cages.

Get the skills at www.joeltimothymusic.com.