About Joel Rafael
Although he'd been writing and performing his songs for decades, in terms of recording, California folksinger, Joel Rafael, was a late bloomer. He was in his early-40s when he released his 1994 debut leading the Joel Rafael Group and his veteran presence and strong character showed in the earthy, melodic Americana tunes that made up the set. By the decade's end, he'd collected several awards, earned plenty of respect, and landed a contract with Jackson Browne's Inside Out imprint to which he delivered a string of well-received outings over the coming decade. Among them were a pair of tributes to Woody Guthrie, another folkie whose penchant for documenting social change in America Rafael shared. Of his own material, albums like 2008's Thirteen Stories High and 2012's America Come Home continued to show his depth and passion as a writer, while on-stage he showed his range, sharing bills with performers like Emmylou Harris, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and John Lee Hooker. He continued to record into the late 2010s, returning with the 2019 highlight Rose Avenue.
Inspired by the folk music boom of the early '60s, Rafael bought a guitar in his teens and began writing songs in the style of Guthrie, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, and Bob Dylan. Born in Chicago but raised in the San Gabriel Valley outside of Los Angeles, Rafael became active in the folk scene of Los Angeles before heading north to the Pacific Northwest in the late '60s. He would eventually return to California, where he settled down in North San Diego County to raise a family.
All through the '70s and '80s, Rafael continued to write folk songs and perform solo and in various groups around Southern California. It wasn't until the early '90s, however, that his solo career began to take off. In 1994, he released his first record fronting his own group, the Joel Rafael Band. Finding some traction in the singer/songwriter-friendly world of AAA radio, the record went on to win the San Diego CCMA award and Rafael also earned the New Folk Emerging Songwriter award from the Kerrville Folk Festival. The group released a follow-up album, Old Wood Barn, in 1996, again on Rafael's own Reluctant Angel Records. By the time of their third album, 2000's Hopper, they had signed with Jackson Browne's Inside Recordings.
In 2002, he wrote a number of songs and composed the background music for a new radio play of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath that was featured on NPR. A longtime fan of legendary folksinger Woody Guthrie, Rafael became part of Jimmy LaFave's Ribbon of Highway, Endless Skyway ensemble. The touring group featured a number of different songwriters paying tribute to Guthrie's music, and in 2003 Rafael released his own tribute album called Woodeye: Songs of Woody Guthrie. The album included guest appearances by Van Dyke Parks, Jennifer Warnes, and Ellis Paul. A second volume called Woodyboye: Songs of Woody Guthrie and Tales Worth Telling, Vol. 2 followed in 2005 and featured four previously unheard Guthrie lyrics to which Rafael wrote music.
After dedicating much of the decade to honoring Woody Guthrie's legacy, Rafael returned to his own songs in 2008 with Thirteen Stories High. The album included the protest song "This Is My Country," which featured guest vocals from David Crosby and Graham Nash. His eighth album, America Come Home, arrived in 2012 and he continued to tour, performing with everyone from Sheryl Crow to Taj Mahal. Later that year, he was also asked to perform at the Woody Guthrie Centennial Songbook show at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. A few years later, Rafael delivered his ninth album, Baladista. He continued to perform over the next few years and in 2018 teamed up with multi-instrumentalist Marty Rifkin to record his next batch of songs. That album, Rose Avenue, was released in 2019 and featured a collaboration with Jason Mraz on the song "Strong." ~ Timothy Monger