Sawmill Joe is from Denver, Colorado.
Joe 'Sawmill Joe' Cheves is the stuff of country-blues legend. When not recording music and playing in dive bars, Cheves works at Olde Tyme Lumber, six miles south of Boulder, where he lost a finger [in May of '12]. Originally from Frederick, Maryland, before moving out to Minnesota to get a job in the iron mines (as mentioned at the beginning of 'The Trade'), Sawmill Joe has lived in Colorado for about five years now. With the release of this new album, he may have found a home for good. This debut sounds like a humble beginning for a man with obvious talents.
Sawmill Joe's story isn't the only thing that sounds like it came straight out of the Mississippi Delta--the songs on his self-titled album sound like they could have been recorded by Alan Lomax himself. They're simple, heartfelt, and at times angry or sorrowful. This is the stuff that comes from the roots of the roots; it's not imitation and it's not affectation. Vocally, Joe can go from gravelly growl to cracking high-pitch country twang in one song. When most the songs consist of a simple blues guitar line and vocals, the feeling and passion in Joe's voice comes through clearly, and it's one of the highlights of the music.
'American Dream' is a love song that takes aim at money and religion, with the chorus, 'If love don't count for somethin' won't you please tell me what does?' On a song like 'Destitute Blues,' you can easily peg some of Joe's influences, like Mississippi John Hurt or Blind Lemon Jefferson. But where some artists would go over the top and just record a cover song, Sawmill Joe remains original. Listening to Joe's songs, it's hard to believe music like this is still being made in the 21st century. These songs about struggle and love are a soundtrack to one man's life, but they are relatable and memorable regardless of where you come from.
Not all the songs here are desolate solo efforts. Denver musician Lief Sjostrom brings cello to a few tracks, including the unrequited love song 'Be Your Man.' The cello isn't overpowering, and it adds another dimension to some of the songs that's refreshing and makes you wonder what kind of power Joe would have with a full band behind him.
-Matt Pusatory A.V. Club