By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch

"Labor & Spirits"
Emory Joseph
Capsaicin Records

June 29, 2003

Emory Joseph's debut album is called "Labor & Spirits" - as in labor of love and spirits of joy.

It is a self-assured collection of R&B-tinged story songs and singer-songwriter biographies that benefit from a long gestation - Joseph, a native St. Louisan, is into his 40s - and an all-star backing band.

Typical is the album opener, "Carolina Princess," a chugging tale about a train "rollin' up from Memphis, destination Union Station." There are other local references as well. In "The Same," we meet "Charlie (who) moved out to Chesterfield, it showed just how far he'd slid."

But mostly the songs are about Joseph and his life, from "Rhum and Coffee," on which he rhapsodizes about his favorite drink and warns us away from others ("I don't shoot tequila 'cause it tends to spin the bed"), to "Daddy John," a funky tune about his father, a "minstrel man" who left early in his son's life.

The album covers much of America's great music forms, from blues and rock to country and jazz. The touchstones, however, are in Memphis, and the Elvis reference is subtle but powerful in the romping "Work to Do." That cut's backing vocals are in the gospel-quartet style loved by the King - he used the great Jordanaires - and feature Joseph, Everett Bradley, Soozie Tyrell and Jon Carroll.

"Labor & Spirits" is a CD that benefits from repeated listening, revealing more of itself each time. And it's clear that Joseph believes a snippet of "Work to Do" lyric, which is also tucked away in tiny type, in mirror image, on the booklet cover:

"Dig what you do."