Hailing from Ocala, Florida, Josh Gilligan is a talented up and comer with a smooth voice and a knack for catchy arrangements. A few weeks ago he asked me to give a listen and I was immediately impressed by his blending of folk and modern pop, reminiscent of MFH favorite Andrew Belle. I couldn’t wait to hear what a full-length effort would sound like. His debut album, Flesh and Blood, is a solid first effort, and shows that there is both a tremendous amount of talent in Gilligan, as well as a maturity well beyond his 20 years.
If you’re familiar with Gilligan, the first thing you’ll notice on Flesh and Blood is the added instrumentation. Guitars, keys, strings, percussion, and more surround the Floridian’s vocals throughout the record. The additions really help to give depth to Gilligan’s sound, and nothing seems out of place or a stretch, they all work within the confines of the foundation that Gilligan has built.
For the most part, Flesh and Blood is an upbeat record. “Fear” and “Let Go” both have great rise an fall qualities, “Stowaway” pulls up on the gas just a bit, as does the title track, but overall the record has a nice steady, up-tempo, rhythm. Not surprising, when you consider the pop elements at work here, as well as the fact that Gilligan just doesn’t seem like a troubled soul. Sure, Flesh and Blood, has its somber moments, but even in those moments there seems to be a hopeful outlook hovering over the entire album. In those somber moments, it’s less about lamenting, and more about figuring out how to cope. Part of the reason for this feeling is the album’s upbeat nature. The sound is not at all dark, but instead lush and lively. The final track gives a nice contrast to the rest of the record by taking the lush and plentiful instrumentation and throwing it aside. “Beaten Path” is an interesting culmination for the album as it takes Gilligan back to his roots, when he wasn’t making studio-produced records, but just a kid messing with a guitar. After repeated listens, it remains the most fascinating song on the entire album, which I’ll talk about more below.
If you’ve read any of my reviews, get familiars, or ever heard me talk music you know I’m a voice man. When discovering new music, it’s the first thing I pay attention to. If I don’t like your voice right off the bat, we’re going to have a difficult time with each other. I had no such worries with Josh Gilligan. His voice fits the folk-pop style extremely well. It’s light, pleasant, and sweet. The vocals on Flesh and Blood are solid throughout, with standout performances on “Fear,” “Beaten Path,” and “Let Go,” where Gilligan does just that and holds nothing back, letting it fly. I was also especially fond of moments, such as on “Take Your Love” and “Fear,” in which the artist uses his voice to create wordless melodies that hover over the meat of the song. They’re a really nice touch, especially at the end of “Fear” when everything else is dropped after a climactic buildup except the “oohs.” Little elements like that may not seem like much at first, but if you were to remove them, the songs wouldn’t be as effective. They may be small, but they add a ton of depth and variety in terms of arrangement.
Josh Gilligan is not just a voice, though. He shows some lyrical chops on Flesh and Blood as well. On “Let Go” he creates an interesting narrative of two people trying to save a relationship, with the only apparent solution being to let each other go their separate ways. The best written song on the record is the closing track, “Beaten Path.” It’s also the song where the words are most important, as Gilligan doesn’t have vibrant instrumentation to fall back on. The singer/songwriter paints a picture of a man stuck in a shootout with no one, “standing in the valley with my weapons drawn/ but I’m the only man within a mile/ at least I’ve got my cover up, at least I’ve got my cover/ but I don’t know what good its ever done.” Already being the most sonically different song on the record, the lyrics of “Beaten Path” distance it even further from the pack. Most of Flesh and Blood sounds autobiographical, but on the album closer, Gilligan takes a page from country greats and creates a story of a man entirely unique to the rest of the record. Sure, there could be elements of Gilligan in the song, but it doesn’t play that way. It raises questions about the man in the story, why is he drawing his weapons? has he lost his mind? why is he a “weary soul?,” rather than about the artist himself.
Being 20 years old, there is still growth to be had for Gilligan as a musician, but he’s starting out on the right foot with Flesh and Blood. I’ll definitely be paying attention to the Floridian folkster in the years to come, and I urge you do the same.
Standouts: “Take Your Love,” “Fear,” “Let Go,” “Beaten Path”