November 22, 2013 by Jay Minkin
To some, Joseph Arthur is a painter from New York. To others, he is a recording artist who has clocked well over fifteen minutes of fame since the release of Come to Where I’m From in 2000. But to the locals, he’s just another kid from Akron that took his talents elsewhere as his star power had outgrown the small metropolis of Midwestern Ohio culture. But just like other Firestone High School alumni Chrissie Hynde, Dan Auerbach, and Patrick Carney, his heart never really left. So as Thanksgiving approaches, it has become somewhat traditional that Joseph Arthur returns home to play a gig. This time, he returns with both barrels loaded touring behind The Ballad of Boogie Christ.
The concept albums released as Act I and Act II tells the story of a fictionalized character loosely based on his own journey. The first album was released in June and now being re-released with the second disc totaling a whopping 24 tracks. Some of the songs having been simmering for over five years as Arthur would move on to other projects. Arthur’s songs started out as poems that were turned into songs, a process he normally doesn’t do when writing. “Normally, I would write from jamming on guitar, chord progressions, and phonetic sounds” he exclaims. “These seem to have more lyrical depth and imagery. I just started writing songs word first and they seemed to fit into this theme.”
Just as his paintings don’t always offer a concrete description, Ballad of Boogie Christ touches on portions of the Arthur story allowing the listener to fill in their own thoughts along the way. Besides lead vocals and guitar, Arthur adds bass, keyboards, percussion, and even sitar to one of the hit singles “Saint of Impossible Causes” along with backing vocals throughout the tracks. It’s not surprising that Arthur can conjure up some wizardry. He was a one man band touring behind Our Shadows Will Remain in 2004 adding splices of sound to tape loops while painting a seven foot tall canvas on stage for an avant-garde multi-media experience.
Part of the reason Act I was released first was due to Arthur having a PledgeMusic campaign. “I think from some kind of knee-jerk pride that didn’t want to ask listeners for help” explains Arthur. “But I think with the music business being what it is nowadays, unless you break out big or become a license darling, there are precious few alternatives to fund one’s work. Some say it’s sad that it has come to this but I’m optimistic that new ways of doing things can lead to new forms of creativity and a smaller world community for artists to get to know their fans or for fans to become a more vital part in the process of artists creating their diamonds.” PledgeMusic fans were able to get a free digital download of Act II for sponsoring Arthur on the original project.
Highlights from The Ballad of Boogie Christ start with the opening pop number “Currency of Love” and bleed throughout Act I with anthems like “It’s OK to Be Young / Gone” and “Still Life Honey Rose”. You’ll need to savior this disc like red wine, taking it in slowly and allowing it to breathe inside your mind. There is a lot to digest with each spin and every time you play it you’ll get engulfed into the music. Now, please don’t have preconceived notions that Act 2 is just a bunch of throw-away tracks as the second album is even stronger. Arthur opens again with another brilliant single “Blue Lights in the Rear View Mirror” and then tips his hat to the electric Dylan era with “Maybe Yes”. “Holding the Void” offers a unique little western twang not normally found in his songbook. After three high energy trippy space flight rockers on tracks 6-8, “We Begin to Dance Again” slowly descends the journey back to earth. “Whisper of Whispers” is a beautiful ballad which conveys calmness within Arthur’s character and whom finally envisions that he will make it through. If you were watching this on the silver screen, “House of Your Love” would be the big closer for this chapter and the final track “In the City There is Grace” would play while the credits are rolling. Many special guests lend a hand accompanying Arthur in the studio on select tracks including the legendary Garth Hudson, Catherine Popper, Ben Harper, Jim Keltner, Chris Seefried, Jenni Muldaur, and Juliette Lewis. Plans for a stripped down and folksy Act 3 of the trilogy is due to come out next year.
Besides returning to the Real World label run by Peter Gabriel for this release, Arthur will front a trio on tour that will include Mike Mills on bass. After his pre-Thanksgiving show in Akron, Arthur will be performing in towns east of the Mississippi; ending this leg in New York on New Year’s Day.
Thanks for listening … your support, feedback, criticism, and affirmation are greatly appreciated. May you have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving.