Part of a motherload of music released on Bandcamp in 2020, celestial guitarist Joseph Allred’s latest album, Michael, is an intense yet angelic soundscape.

Joseph Allred’s music is soporific. Definitely not because it’s boring, but the music has the ability to transport the listener to a dreamland. Allred’s sound is tranquil and hypnotizing, slow paced yet meditative, and always unfolding. Allred has released nine (yes, nine) albums on Bandcamp in 2020 alone; each album is distinct from the last. Michael, his most recent, is just a sliver of his wide-reaching musical tendencies, but it is nevertheless an enlightening one.

Allred is a virtuosic guitarist who blends classical, country, and folk without being strictly defined by any of them. The album is evocative of the folk tales of John Fahey as well as the modal wonderings and drone of Indian classical music. He draws from biblical imagery and themes which endows his music with mysticism and a solemn sincerity. It would come as no surprise if Allred’s Bandcamp username “poorfaulkner” is a tip of the hat to the writer William Faulkner, since Allred is definitely a sonic storyteller in that tradition.

Michael’s second track, “What Faulkner Saw,” is a jingle-jangle soundscape of various stringed instruments and chimes, all layered to create a peaceful waterfall of sound. Allred soars over the top of this on acoustic guitar with singing riffs and sweeps. Underneath the guitar only one chord fills the space, but the tune remains complex and never repetitive. Allred is able to endlessly explore one harmony on his guitar and extracts never ending ideas out of one scale.

Part of the sonic appeal of this album is that the sounds themselves are veiled and illusive. For example, “Everything In The Dim Night” is murmuring and mysterious, constructed out of strange, unfamiliar sounds that are rich and multilayered. On this track, Allred noodles over the top of the drone on a banjo. The combination of a mysterious drone (perhaps a held, low organ note combined with a bowed bass?) and the recognizable twang of a banjo gives the piece a traditional folk feeling as well as an experimental edge. This track is a cascade of layered sound, sometimes gentle, sometimes overwhelming. It is an immersive organization of sound that showers over the listener. 

The album takes a somber turn when Allred sings a rendition of the traditional American folk song “O Death,” the only song on the album with lyrics. Allred includes this tune as the penultimate track and sings it as if delivering a sermon. He puts his own spin on the old Appalachian folk song yet stays true to its haunting lyrics. He sings: “O Death, O Death, how can it be / That I must come and go with thee? / O Death, O Death, How can it be? / I’m unprepared for eternity.” The song is an attempt to bargain with Death for more time on Earth. Allred sings over a one-note drone that slowly builds in intensity underneath his mellow yet spooky voice. He croons: “Yes, I have come for to get your soul / To leave your body and leave it cold / To drop the flesh from off your frame / The earth and worm both have their claim.” The barebones sound, accompanied with the grim lyrics renders the aura of this track especially sinister. 

Combining suspenseful drones, ethereal guitar playing, and modal wanderings that echo the stream of consciousness writing style of William Faulkner, Michael is best listened to in an eerie rural church or, if that’s not an option, with your eyes closed lying in bed on a rainy day. Allred’s patient and expansive songs are more like paintings in sound. Allred has firmly established himself as a truly imaginative musical storyteller.

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