The track record of professional athlete/musical artists isn’t great. You have Kobe and Shaquille O’Neal, who mostly seemed to perform music about each other. Quarterback Terry Bradshaw did six country albums, even charting a hit. Beloved New York Mets icon Tug McGraw never made an album, but he made country star Tim McGraw, which counts for something. Joe Barksdale, offensive tackle for the LA Chargers, has bucked the trend, though, with Butterflies, Rainbows and Moonbeams, a shockingly good album of funk, soul, and blues.
Barksdale sings and plays guitar on the album and while his voice is about what one might expect from this kind of endeavor, the music, production and guitar work are all pleasantly versatile, with Barksdale showing an unusually strong sense of song. It’s very impressive given he just started playing in 2013. Barksdale is an avowed Jimi Hendrix fan and while the album has some Hendrix touches (he has a faithful-yet-personal cover of “Wind Cries Mary”), the songs fluently travel across all kinds of musical genres.
The album kicks off with “How About Now,” an instrumental with spacey, P-Funk-like keyboards. The guitar work isn’t flashy, but Barksdale manages to always play the perfect lick. It’s a great opener to an eclectic album, letting listeners know they’re in for a delightfully weird ride.
As mentioned earlier, Barksdale’s voice, while certainly serviceable, isn’t especially strong (similarly to Hendrix, one might note). One way he manages that situation is with spectacular duets throughout the album. They serve to lift the songs while also letting Barksdale keep his imprint on the album. “Journey to Nowhere” is a great example of this. It’s a keyboard-driven rhythm and blues and while Barksdale’s vocal presence is felt on the track, singer Rebecca Jade takes the lead and carries the song, although when the two sing together on the chorus, they create something special and sweet. It’s also to Barksdale’s credit that he lists her as a featured vocalist on the track, as he does with all of his collaborators.
“Dreams,” a country duet also sung with Jade, works for similar reasons. But it’s also one of the album’s most interesting tracks. First of all, the country shuffle shouldn’t fit in with the other songs, which are more in a blues/funk vein. But it works perfectly because of Barksdale’s voice — as an artist and as a songwriter. Where country songs can be sad, Barksdale goes for a happy chorus, singing together with Jade, “Your dreams are my dreams, too.” It’s almost the opposite of country. The optimistic tone is especially heart-warming because of Barksdale’s work as an advocate for depression. Which isn’t to say the album is overly serious. Barksdale has some whimsical, funny lines, like “My dog doesn’t like you/And neither does my mama/Every time we get together/There’s nothing by drama,” which is from “Can’t Put You Down,” a riff on Howlin’ Wolf’s classic “Killing Floor.”
The amazing thing about Butterflies, Rainbows and Moonbeams is the immersive world created by Barksdale. It’s an upbeat world, where funk and blues mingle, and where songs pop into existence, not because they fit within a certain genre, but because they’ll make the listener (and one suspects, the performer) happy. It’s also a world where an NFL tackle manages to create one of the more delightful, sincere records of 2018.
The Review: 9/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Can’t Put You Down
– Wind Cries Mary
– Joy Bells
The Big Hit
Review by Steven Ovadia