Joshua Carswell can’t remember a time when he wasn’t singing. A winner of the American Traditions Competition in Savannah, GA, one of the nation’s most prestigious vocal contests, and a graduate of Elon University, Joshua traces his musical inspiration to an unusual source. ‘When I was only three, I started singing specials in church. A lady in the congregation came to me afterward and said, “I will make you brownies if you will sing again.” So I did… again, and again, and again.’
Music was ever present in the Carswell home. ‘I would record musicals on our television and watch them over and over. I started subscribing to Turner Classic Movies magazine at the age of 12 just so I could record rare movie musicals!’, says Joshua. Disney soundtracks, crooner legends like Tony Bennett, pop innovators like Billy Joel and the Carpenters, and the songs of the Great American Songbook shaped his artistic sensibilities early on. ‘The excellence of those songwriters and performers is distinctively American. They inspire me to continue their legacy.’
That legacy is on stunning display in his self-titled debut, a diverse collection of Duke Ellington jazz, Hank Williams classics, pop originals, and European influenced standards. Produced by Alex Wolaver of the Annie Moses Band, the new album reaches across the artistic spectrum to craft an impressive musical presentation. ‘Josh loves a multiplicity of styles and genres,” says Alex, “and he has an extraordinary skill to interpret and perform all of them.”
A singer’s singer, Joshua found the melody of “I Only Have Eyes For You” magnetic (“The song was performed in the 30s, reborn in the 50s, and was a hit in 70s, so it’s literally timeless.”). But the album not only demonstrates classic grace; it ignites an electric sound in the pop version of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. “When I first heard the electric guitar solo, my jaw dropped. I knew we had created something spectacular,” says Joshua. “The song resonates with my childhood in the Appalachian mountains. It was one of my grandfather’s favorites.” The music of Broadway, a lifelong love, also makes an appearance in “Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home”, a powerhouse rendition. Even Parisian accordion comes into play as Joshua draws on his knowledge of French to reinterpret “Autumn Leaves”. “Johnny Mercer wrote the English lyrics from the French original, so we decided to return to the tragic spirit of the French cabaret.”
Pathos is one of the project’s themes – whether passionate emotion or quiet sadness like in the lyrical “ I Wish You Were Here”. Nostalgic 1950s style tongue-in-cheek lyrics also make a comeback in the originals “Perks” and “You Look Good In Love”. But in some ways, the album finds its summation in the old spiritual “How Can I Keep From Singing?” “Singing isn’t just something I do. It’s who I am. So I guess you could say the title is apropos,” says Joshua. And with musicianship this consummate, we’ll be listening.