Joseph Arthur
w/Joan as Police Woman
Wed Dec 8
the Crocodile, 8:30 pm,
$10 adv./$12 DOS.

A yearning to put everything into storage and take off free from attachments for parts unknown is most likely a sign of one of two things: frustration, or a burst of creativity. For singer and songwriter Joseph Arthur, it was both. Having severed ties with Real World Records, a home where Arthur never felt welcome despite the three critically acclaimed, if under-heard albums he released on the label, the Ohio-bred, New York-based singer packed up and followed a wanderlust that eventually landed him in New Orleans. His new album, Our Shadows Will Remain, reflects the journey.

"New York felt so small all of a sudden," says Arthur on his cell phone--as he's playing backseat driver to a friend while they navigate the unfamiliar streets of Indianapolis--"and I knew I needed a change of scenery in order to make a record [for my new label] Vector." He says he found the search for a new home exciting, "but finding a place to stay when you don't really have a plan is hard."

On the surface, Our Shadows Will Remain is a collection of songs that finds Arthur, more often than ever before, exploring shining pop structures. Vacancy, 2002's Come to Where I'm From, and especially his last album, Redemption's Son, increasingly hinted that Arthur was capable of knocking out a smoother, more seamless record without losing any of his vocal or lyrical edge while piling even more texture on top of an already multi-layered craft. He's woven a similar thread throughout each product, and again Arthur sings about the familiar--making the same mistakes over and over again despite having learned his lesson each time. But what was once a simple path is now carpeted with extra hallmarks of awareness, both musically and philosophically, and, says Arthur, "Our Shadows Will Remain is not so much a record as it is the story which unfolds as it's played."

Most striking are the blossoming string arrangements that swell from the new songs, and the addition of trilling piano lines are what makes a song like "Devil's Broom" ("Waking up in the tank/Disorderly Break-up/And no one here will even tell me what I did") the perfect balance of rough-edged vocals against gleaming chamber pop. However, when listened to track after track as the story is told, edgy beauty reveals a heart aching with sadness. "Echo Park" sounds like a clear-headed love song until you consider it on the heels of the preceding "Devil's Broom." Only then does it become unblinkingly evident that what sounds like a celebration of the present is actually a memory of the past. Once that discovery is made, it's hard to hear Our Shadows Will Remain with any sense of naiveté ever again. "It's a park, it's a neighborhood, and it's the title of a song about echoes of a relationship that's ended," says Arthur of the inspiration for "Echo Park." The next track, "Even Tho," furthers the theme with a chorus that repeats the phrase, "Even though I'm here you know that I'm already gone." After that there's a flurry of passionate emotions to be explored before things settle down again on "A Smile That Explodes." "I write one more," it says, "letter I won't send except for across the floor." There's so much to relate to within this single album, so much so that it can inspire tears.

If you've seen Arthur perform live since the days when it was just him and an acoustic guitar playing songs off the first two albums, then you've no doubt become familiar with his one-man-band approach. As he strums his guitar and sings or blows on his harmonica, his feet madly trigger samples of beats and sound-bending gizmos. It's truly a sight to behold and evidence of his multi-layered talent. "It's still just me and a bunch of stomp boxes making a lot of noise," he says humbly while noting that he's brought a violinist on the road with him this time out. "I did add cymbals that I play with my knees," he adds and he laughs when it's brought to his attention that he could have just as easily set a mechanical monkey to do the same. "That's it," he says sardonically, "I've come one step closer to becoming the monkey I've always aspired to be."