A track that so successfully replicates the hazy atmosphere of early '70s folk rock that it could quite easily, due to its lack of personal identity, be mistaken for a long-lost Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young B-side.
The child of fervently religious parents, Joshua ‘Father John Misty’ Tillman grew up in somewhat of a cultural vacuum. Part of a strict Baptist community in Rockville, Maryland, he and his peers were forbidden to listen to any secular music, lest it corrupt their sweet innocent souls. Showing considerable nous, a 17-year-old Joshua managed to find a way of sneaking Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming through the slits in his closely guarded fortress on the slightly dubious grounds that Dylan was classified as a Christian artist. Thank goodness he did, otherwise we may never have had the opportunity to enjoy the curious delights that he’s been offering up ever since.
A songwriter of great ingenuity, his two albums to date as the Father hold an affinity with the sumptuously arranged albums of Sufjan Stevens, so it feels a bit odd listening now to his new single, ‘Real Love Baby,’ which eschews any sense of the confident weirdness we find the two artists sharing in favour of straight pastiche. In what can only be a loving tribute to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Father John Misty has delivered a carefully crafted homage to the folk rock collective and their various permutations – most immediately the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. Perhaps a presumptuous thing to say, there is at least evidence of his love for Neil Young in the fact that J. Tillman – as he then penned his name – boldy covered the former’s aching masterpiece Tonight’s The Night in its entirety and made it available to all as a free download. If that’s not a strong statement, I don’t know what is.
Currently courting controversy, he caused a stir last week at a festival in Camden, New Jersey, by setting off on an unexpected tirade against the entertainment industry, angrily spitting that “stupidity just fucking runs the world because entertainment is stupid.” Seemingly riled up by Donald Trump’s farcical speech the night before at the Republican National Convention, he viciously mocked the “demonic clown pageant coronation of our next potential Idiot King.” Channeling the energetic passion of the evangelical Christianity he was brought up on, such an impromptu sermon surely confirms that his childhood dreams of becoming a pastor may not have entirely subsided. After all, there lies an oh so subtle clue in his stage name.
A gorgeous pastiche, ‘Real Love Baby’ is a beautifully concise love letter to the Father’s folky forebears that, although necessarily generic, contains genuine heart and soul. The problem is that, away from that context, it doesn’t have enough individuality to transcend its humble intentions and become something more. There’s nothing wrong with that however, and if it’s fated to be quickly forgotten as a quirky nostalgia-number, at least we had the pleasure of experiencing it at all.
‘Real Love Baby’ is out now via Bella Union and Sub Pop