Life Out East
It’s February 13th, 2009 - the day before Valentine’s Day - and Joe Yoga is about a quarter done with Life Out East, the one he’ll be doing “everything right on this time.” Almost a year earlier to the day, Yoga released his solo debut, The Dreamless Sea, a collection of twelve ethereal bedroom recordings that play like Daniel Johnston waking up from a New Weird American dream and rubbing the weekday crust from his Saturday morning eyes.
These are songs for sleepless nights and people in crisis. You’ll recognize them from the bottom of a three A.M. coffee cup or in your still wine-drunk reflection the next morning. They’re thematically, musically, intrinsically Yoga, but they’re also yours – familiar like a favorite 7” you don’t remember buying. Which feels right: the underlying sensibility of The Dreamless Sea is a land-where-blues-began attentiveness to the half-broken heartbeat of a sound, an aesthetic perfectly realized in intimate four-track recordings. With Life Out East, Yoga steps out of the bedroom and up to the microphone.
The non-stop gigging that lead to the release of the album you’re holding in your hands manifests itself in a familiarity and confidence that recalls The Mayor of MacDougal Street, Dave Van Ronk. For the uninitiated, Van Ronk was instrumental in the folk revival of the ‘60s, incorporating aspects of the delta blues and traditional jazz into otherwise tired coffee shop numbers. Yoga, described by The Village Voice as “towering; baby-faced,” similarly reinvigorates the very idea of the singer/songwriter with a unique style that can be best described as Van Ronk and Roll: same heart and historical perspective as The Mayor, but with a few Mission of Burma records thrown in.
There’s a quietness to these songs, too, though – a solitary, literary bent. “Paper Thin Walls” (or any of the songs on Life Out East, actually) sounds like it could’ve been spun on Madam Psychosis’ midnight show in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. And you could easily picture poet and Silver Jew Dave Berman putting “The Silent Treatment” on loop and popping one more Xanax. “Cody, You’re Breaking My Heart” is the short story Johnny Thunders never wrote before he overdosed, dying before he could finish the blues album he also never started.
“It’s going to be a rough day tomorrow,” Joe says in his pre-Valentine’s Day interview, reveling in the thought of another sleepless night. You can hear it in Life Out East, that roughness. And it sounds so good.
- Nick Courage