Home Read Classic Album Review: Josh Joplin | Useful Music

Classic Album Review: Josh Joplin | Useful Music

The Geogia roots-pop troubadour recalls Michael Stipe on his elegant third album.

This came out in 2001 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):


Back in his restless youth, troubadour Josh Joplin went on a cross-country pilgrimage — visiting the birthplaces of Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Woody Guthrie, working the Greenwich Village folk circuit — before putting down roots in Georgia.

Why Georgia? Well, he credits the Atlanta singer-songwriter scene, home to the likes of Shaun Mullins (who produced Useful Music, Joplin’s third album). But I suspect it also has to do with the proximity to Athens and another apparent influence: R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe. In fact, if there weren’t pictures of John on this disc, you could mistake it for a Stipe solo record. Joplin has the same reedy twang, the same air of tragic elegance, the same penchant for poetic balladeering. His lyrics, thankfully, are a little less obscure. Useful Music’s 13 roots-pop cuts are tenderly insightful life lessons about growing up, moving on, coming clean, finding peace — and realizing that despite what Thomas Wolfe said, sometimes you can go home again. Useful? Sure. And damned pretty to boot.