After growing up in one of the biggest music hubs of the world, Joel Lindsey now spends his days playing around Pittsburgh as one half of acoustic soul duo Boulevard of the Allies.
For a guitarist, moving from London to Pittsburgh might sound like a musical demotion. Not so, according to Lindsey.
“People say there’s not much happening in Pittsburgh, but that means there’s an opportunity for someone to make things happen,” he said.
Sitting outside Espresso A Mano in Lawrenceville on the week of his debut album release, Lindsey looked ready to do just that. Equipped with his guitar, a handful of posters and flyers, as well as copies of his band’s new record, he was nothing if not determined.
Lindsey’s 2007 trek to Pittsburgh was spurned by love, pure and simple. After meeting his eventual wife in Europe, he packed up and left London to follow her back home to western Pennsylvania. He hit the ground running, quickly adapting to Pittsburgh’s unique musical landscape: namely, by learning Donnie Iris covers.
“I learned the song ‘Love is Like a Rock’ on the airplane over here,” said Lindsey. “I played it at a gig in Bridgeville, and afterward a little dude in glasses and curly hair came up to me and said it was great.”
That dude, he learned later, was Iris.
“I had no idea,” he said.
But Lindsey’s days playing solo were short-lived.
“I knew that with the use of my English accent I could probably talk a few good musicians into joining me,” said Lindsey with a grin.
After opening for Pittsburgh band Metropolitans, Lindsey was drawn to bassist James Kurasch, “a great bass player whose harmonies are wicked,” he said. “As soon as I saw him play, I said I had to play with this guy. He’s it. I was a bit of a poacher when I first arrived.”
Kurasch and Lindsey’s musical partnership solidified after a jam session, but the duo’s name dropped a bit more haphazardly — on the way to a radio interview at Point Park University, “we didn’t have a name; we looked up at a street sign and that was it.”
For 13 months, Lindsey and Kurasch, as well as a cast of their “allies” playing a whole assortment of instruments, worked on “Man in the Photograph” at local producer and percussionist Tim College’s home studio, “tuning every fine detail,” said Lindsey. The result is 10 songs of straightforward, breezy rock ’n ’roll. Lindsey’s songs sway and groove gently, his strong, soulful voice swirling over bass-heavy, funk-lite backdrops. “End of the Show” is a bluesy guitar dirge with Lindsey crowing, “You gotta keep it moving, before you lose your soul.” “Still Can’t Find Your Love” could be a smooth John Mayer b-side.
“The album is our ‘Rubber Soul,’” said Lindsey. “On that particular album, [The Beatles] deliver the songs in a very particular way, there’s no confusion as to the melodies. That’s how this album is. There are some flamboyancies, some thrills, but essentially the album is sung and played in the clearest sense.”
Lindsey’s songs bare his feelings and experiences openly, a quality that he believes makes them relatable.
“There’s a song about leaving home. A song about missing my mother,” he said. “Like a good Jewish mother, she’d call me three times a day. The idea is, what would you do if you didn’t have that person?”
With the album finally done, Lindsey and his allies plan to hit Pittsburgh hard, beginning with two CD release shows this weekend, but he doesn’t expect the hard work to stop there.
“People ask my why I’m living in Pittsburgh, and how I make a living being a musician in Pittsburgh — it’s because I’m not afraid to pick up the phone and call somebody,” he said. “If you’ve got the balls to call a recording agency, to call a festival, to really have some nachas, then you go places.”
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com.)