Joe Tilston – Embers

By Tom Aylott

Singer-songwriters are a dime-a-dozen in today’s music climate; it is therefore immensely refreshing to see a member of a band far removed from the genre step into the limelight. Joe Tilston has spent the previous decade in the Keighley based socio-political ska(ish)-punk band Random Hand, taking on dual responsibilities of vocals and bass. His debut solo album takes a distinctive step away from the sound associated with the band, choosing instead to pull influences from artists such as Damien Rice and Jon Boden. The result is truly breath-taking as it gently saunters through delicate compositions accompanied by a full backing band saturated with violins and echoing drums.

The influences are abundantly clear at various moments on the record, yet Tilston never falls into copycat terrain. These similarities lie in the expertly crafted shifts between minimalist acoustic guitar and the crescendo of string instruments and dual vocals – supplied by Tilston’s sister Martha at carefully selected intervals. Opening track ‘Railway Children’ begins as a reserved composition before adding layer upon layer of instrumentation. Despite the lack of any explosive moments throughout the track – and indeed the record – there is a subtle power within Tilston’s voice which permeates through every second.

‘Embers’ may appear delicate on the surface; nevertheless it is clear that Tilston has a heavier background. There exists a clear understand of the lyrics and emotion behind them as he delivers haunting lyrics on tracks such as ‘Liza & Henry’ or ‘Long We Live’. Even the folk-inspired inclusions such as ‘Song For Old Friends’ and ‘Erosion’ are separated from the norm by the nuances in the vocals. Where the compositions become heavier and darker is where Tilston truly immerses himself in the sound. ‘Little Scars’ allows the guitars to become punchier and more pronounced, while ‘You & I’ combines the darker tones with the forlorn lyrics.

Joe Tilston has successfully taken the traditional singer-songwriter formula and twisted it with remarkable effect. There may be the occasional moment where influences are relied too heavily upon, but as a whole ‘Embers’ is separate to the pack. Tilston has lived every moment of these songs and the raw sensibility is evident at every turn. ‘Embers’ is a subtle combination of minimal instruments and accompaniments, guided by honest vocals and considered compositions. Singer-songwriters may be a dime-a-dozen, but few are able to pull it off quite as well as this.


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