As if the title "The Suffering Stage" wasn't enough to convince, Joseph Huber is clearly one of those ragged, rugged Americana troubadours who casts his emotions on his sleeve. While his work with the .357 Sting Band made only a slight impression on diehard devotees, Huber's three previous efforts have cast him the mould of such like-minded troubadours as Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, thanks in no small part to his knack for weary rumination and restless resolve. "Hard times never quite seem to end," he observes on the opening track, "Playground/Battlefield," an appropriate ode to unvarnished sentiments.
Indeed, there's a decided sadness that's inherent in Huber's musings, whether it's the dark, despondent "Diminished Things," a song that wouldn't sound out of place on Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska" or the searing "Souls Without Maps," the album's ragged send-off. So too, the uncommonly upbeat "16-10" and the sway and caress of "You Showed Me" find the Milwaukee product making an equally emphatic impression. With fiddle and pedal steel providing the usual accoutrements, Huber hones the sadness and sobriety of eternal angst, doing so with an edge and insistence that allow these songs to resonate with both drive and deliberation.
Ultimately, "The Suffering Stage" is one of those albums that instantly demands notice, given its combination of wanderlust and resolve. With insight and emotion, he ploughs the back roads and sprawling hinterlands that are the natural setting for tales that capture this degree of loneliness and remorse. It's there that Huber finds his purpose and defines his stance. As for the rest of us, we can celebrate the fact that we've been invited to share the journey and have been given the opportunity to wish him well.