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Joseph Arthur :: My Favorite Artists/Bands

It was a case of “as heard on TV” that my first aural encounter with Joseph Arthur’s music took place. The OC had one hell of a soundtrack, and two of Arthur’s songs were notably featured in the first season, In the Sun and Honey and the Moon. They both became instant favorites of mine, and individually, these two songs made their way into many playlists and mixes over the years.

For a long spell these were the only songs I was familiar with, that is, until I started to dive into his extensive discography, discovering along the way that those two songs were just the start of a musical love affair I’d soon find myself immersed in.

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Seeing Arthur play live earlier this Summer solidified my love of his music and songwriting (read my review here). Oh, and let’s not forget the Lou Reed cover album he recorded, entitled Lou, which is mind-blowing amazing.

My falling for Arthur’s music continues, which is always exciting to me when I’m still digging in to the music, and finding new favorites. I feel like I’ll be falling for awhile still, so the list of “favorite songs” at the end of this post will most likely change as we go, but, then again, that is bound to happen with all the artists and bands I love.

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Joseph Arthur, born September 28, 1971, is an American singer-songwriter and artist from Akron, Ohio, United States. He is best known for his solo material, and as a member of Fistful of Mercy and RNDM. Combining poetic lyrics with a layered sonic palette, Arthur has built his reputation over the years through critically acclaimed releases and constant touring; his unique solo live performances often incorporate the use of a number of distortion and loop pedals, and his shows are recorded live at the soundboard and made available to concert goers immediately following the show on recordable media. He’s also been known to paint while singing/playing on-stage, something he did when I saw him at the Troubadour recently.

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Arthur was discovered by Peter Gabriel in the mid-1990’s, and signed to Gabriel’s Real World label as the first North American artist on the label’s roster. Arthur released his debut album, Big City Secrets (1997), and follow-up, Come to Where I’m From (2000), on Real World before signing with various independent labels between 2002 and 2006. He established his own record label, Lonely Astronaut Records, in 2006, and released two studio albums, Let’s Just Be (2007) and Temporary People (2008) with backing band The Lonely Astronauts.

Arthur subsequently returned to performing and recording as a solo artist, releasing The Graduation Ceremony in 2011 and the double album, Redemption City in 2012.

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In 2013, Arthur started a Pledge Music campaign to fund the release of his tenth studio album, The Ballad of Boogie Christ. The album was released on June 11, 2013.

Arthur is also an acclaimed painter and designer. His artwork has graced the sleeves of his entire discography; the sleeve design for his 1999 extended play Vacancy was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Recording Package.

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Joseph began writing and playing music in his early teens, after inheriting an electronic keyboard from his aunt. At age 16, he played bass in a blues band called Frankie Starr and the Chill Factor, which disbanded by 1995. Initially, Arthur sought to become a noted bass guitarist, stating:

“I never started singing until I was in my early 20’s. I remember thinking, ‘OK – I am not a singer, I am a musician.’ I wanted to be this like heroic bass player so I listened to people like Jaco Pastorius, to Bitches Brew over and over again. And then like Nirvana came out and I was blown away and then I got into Bob Dylan. Around that time I started playing acoustic guitar and realized I could actually write songs if I wasn’t playing complicated bass lines.”

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Joseph graduated from Firestone High School in 1990 and continued developing his music. In the early 1990’s, Arthur relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, continuing to record home demos, playing local clubs and working as a guitar salesman at Clark Music Store.

In 1996, Peter Gabriel’s A&R associate Harvey Schartz presented Gabriel with a demo of Arthur’s first EP, Cut and Blind. Gabriel and Schwartz arranged a live audition at The Fez nightclub in New York City, and Arthur flew up from Atlanta. The night was a success; not only was Lou Reed a guest in the audience, but within a few months Arthur was officially signed, making him the first American recording artist signed to Gabriel’s label

Arthur recorded his debut album at Gabriel’s Real World Studios in England with producer Markus Dravs (Björk, Coldplay, Arcade Fire). The debut album Big City Secrets was released worldwide in spring 1997, and Arthur joined Gabriel’s WOMAD tour in Europe. Big City Secrets displayed Arthur’s often angsty and emotionally wrought lyrics coupled with diverse instrumentation, which he himself described as “someone struggling to heal over experimental folk-rock“, but went virtually unnoticed by the mainstream. 

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Two years later, he recorded an EP called Vacancy, which earned him a Grammy nomination in 2000 for best recording package.

In April 2000, Arthur released his sophomore studio album Come to Where I’m From, which was co-produced with T-Bone Burnett and Tchad Blake. The album exhibited a more polished and accessible sound, and received positive accolades from Pitchfork Media and Entertainment Weekly. Arthur began playing for larger audiences, opening for Ben Harper and Gomez. During that same period, he released a promotional live album recorded at the Gypsy Tea Room bar in Dallas, Texas.

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After releasing a series of four EPs called Junkyard Hearts, which were only available to purchase at his live shows, his third album, Redemption’s Son, came out in May 2002 in the UK. The American release was delayed until November 2002 since Arthur had been dropped by EMI in North America, having been picked up by Universal Music Group imprint Enjoy Records. The double album furthered the themes of emotional and spiritual dislocation found on Come to Where I’m From.

While on tour, Arthur regularly released recordings of his performances soon after each show. He also recorded an album with alternative rock side project Holding the Void, featuring himself on vocals and guitar, Pat Sansone on vocals and bass, and Rene Lopez on vocals and drums. In Summer 2003, he toured with Tracy Chapman in the US.

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Arthur signed a new recording contract with Vector Recordings and began recording his fourth studio album, Our Shadows Will Remain across New Orleans, New York City, London, and Prague. The album was released in September 2004, and was Arthur’s first album to feature string arrangements, provided by the City of Prague Philharmonic. The album was released to widespread critical acclaim.

Arthur toured the US alone and with Joan Wasser to promote the album, and a new EP called And the Thieves Are Gone, which collected unreleased tracks from the Shadows recording sessions, came out in December. Shortly afterward, Arthur went on a brief tour of Europe with R.E.M. Our Shadows Will Remain was picked up by 14th Floor Records for distribution in the United Kingdom in 2005, which yielded the release of four singles: Can’t Exist in July, Even Tho in September, Devil’s Broom in February 2006 to coincide with his first headlining appearance at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire, and a reissue of Can’t Exist in May 2006, although none of the singles charted on the UK Singles Chart.

In August 2006, Joseph was invited to help launch the project A River Blue, where a group of young people in northern Uganda were brought together to participate in a music, drama, and art festival. Joseph also recorded the song A River Blue for the foundation.

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In 2006, Arthur started the record label Lonely Astronaut Records with longtime professional partner Lauren Pattenaude. He released a book entitled We Almost Made It, a visual collection of his artworks, along with an accompanying instrumental CD titled The Invisible Parade in May 2006. In September 2006, Arthur released his fifth studio album, Nuclear Daydream, which was recorded in Berlin and Los Angeles. The album would be the first release on his new label. Joseph then embarked on a worldwide tour with his new backing band, The Lonely Astronauts.

His song In the Sun was covered by Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and Chris Martin of Coldplay in 2006 for a Hurricane Katrina relief EP. The EP includes six versions of the song, one featuring Arthur himself singing with Stipe and another remixed by Justin Timberlake.

On March 26, 2007, Joseph’s then-UK label 14th Floor Records released a re-recorded version of his 2002 song Honey and the Moon as a special single in the UK only.

In April, he released his sixth studio album, Let’s Just Be, and embarked on an extensive US tour. This was Joseph’s first album with The Lonely Astronauts; the band recorded as many as 80 songs in late 2006, with only sixteen appearing on the album. The album was released to lukewarm critical reception.

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In 2008, Arthur released four EPs in a four-month span: Could We Survive on March 18, Crazy Rain on April 15, Vagabond Skies on June 10, and Foreign Girls on July 8. Regarding these releases, Arthur noted,

“I have so much music piled up, like strange animals in a cosmic cage begging for release. The jails were overcrowded. I had to let some of them go.”

Arthur recorded a cover of The Afghan Whigs’s “Step into the Light” from their 1996 album Black Love for the tribute album, Summer’s Kiss: A Tribute to The Afghan Whigs. Following UK tour dates with The Lonely Astronauts in July, Arthur embarked on a solo tour of France in October 2009. A reissue of his 2006 album Nuclear Daydream with six previously unreleased bonus tracks was released during this tour.

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Arthur, Ben Harper, and Dhani Harrison formed the supergroup trio Fistful of Mercy in 2010, and their debut album As I Call You Down was released on October 5, 2010. Arthur’s first solo studio album since Nuclear Daydream, titled The Graduation Ceremony, was released on May 23, 2011.

In 2012, Arthur released a double album, Redemption City, and collaborated with Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament in the band, RNDM.

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In 2013, Arthur began using Pledge Music to fund the release of his new studio album, The Ballad of Boogie Christ. In a statement, Arthur noted,

“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.”

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My Top 10 songs from Joseph Arthur

1. Honey and the Moon
from the album, Redemption’s Son

“Don’t know why I’m still afraid,
if you weren’t real I would make you up now.”

2. Gypsy Faded
from the album, The Graduation Ceremony

“I guess there’s always a chance of us coming back together,
but that seems unlikely in this kind of weather.
I just never saw it coming so forgive me the shock,
of becoming a stranger walking down my own block.
I’m getting over it though,
you are fading from my view,
and soon I hope you will be gone as I have been gone for you.
I do however want to say that I wish you the best.
past the anger of betrayal and the need to second guess.”

3. In the Sun
from the album, Come to Where I’m From

“And being caught in between,
all you wish for and all you seen,
and trying to find anything you can feel that you can believe in.”

4. I Miss the Zoo
from the album, Ballad of Boogie Christ

“I miss illusions begging to be chased,
even as they disappear into me erased,
until there is no one or nothing but the chase,
and a powdery ghost with no face or faith,
and the woman of my dream disappearing without grace.”

5. Favorite Girl
from the album, Junkyard Hearts

“In your version of this world,
you’re everybody’s favorite girl.”

6. Redemption’s Son
from the album, Redemption’s Son

“Angel of love,
shine a light on us.”

7. Currency of Love
from the album, The Ballad of Boogie Christ 

“Sideways and broken,
confused upside-down,
with you in my circus,
I go from strongman to clown.
I have no real weapon,
but a fist or a shove,
I have no real currency,
but the currency of love.”

8. Saint of Impossible Causes 
from the album, The Ballad of Boogie Christ

“I need the saint of music,
I need the saint of love.”

9. Out on a Limb
from the album, The Graduation Ceremony

“Time won’t run away from me,
like you always do.”

10. Satellite of Love
from the album, Lou

“Satellite’s gone way up to Mars,
soon it’ll be filled with parkin’ cars,
I watched it for a little while,
I love to watch things on TV.”

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