Review : Joseph Arthur – The Family (2016)


Damian runs the rule over the brand new one from the guitar wizard

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing a collaborative release from an alternative rock band called RNDM consisting of Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament, vocalist Joseph Arthur and drummer Richard Stuverud. It was a very diverse record so I was looking forward to hearing this new offering from the singer and extremely talented Joseph Arthur.

Arthur is known for his beautiful acoustic melodies and harder-edged, expansive driving rock, Joseph’s career spans 20+ albums ranging from solo records to high profile collaborations that include the likes of Lou Reed, Dhani Harrison, Ben Harper, Peter Gabriel and T-Bone Burnett.

He has recently performed at the all-star ‘Music of David Bowie’ concert alongside Michael Stipe, Debbie Harry, performing ‘The Man Who Sold The World’.

And if that’s not enough,  his  live performances incorporate looping and several distortion techniques. He is an acclaimed painter and designer and has had a sleeve design nominated for a Grammy.

The album is based around the idea of family. The way family dynamics shape us and make us who we are. The title track “The Family” introduces us to this release and it’s a real laid back tune, almost what I’d call a slacker of a tune, with a chorus of “The family was always glad you came”, that will get inside your head and have you mumbling it long after. “Sister Dawn” is another laid back melody with lyrics advising the recipient to take care of their young. A really nice blend of drums, piano and synths. Indeed, Mr Arthur single-handedly takes on everything on this album. A more aggressive up tempo track comes next with “With Your Life” where the vocals are quietly almost spoken on top of the catchy driving beat. I really loved this song and it was over much too soon for my liking. A more R & B, hip hop type melody underpins “They Call Him Lightening” with the vocals almost chanted. I could imagine this is a song that Prince would have been happy to call him own, a really soulful, intricate song. “When I Look At You” follows and is a beguiling chilled out love song.

“Wishing Well” is a more reflective offering, an underlying drum beat, twinkling piano keys, swirling synths, quiet guitar licks and some haunting, quite heart wrenching vocals. A truly wonderful song.

The realities of leaving your family and heading to a conflict and the uncertainty of whether you will return is documented in “Machines Of War”, powerful and passionate sentiments shared over a enchanting musical Pandora of sounds.

“Ethel Was Born” is quite a haunting song narrating a story about how a couple met from differing backgrounds and ages. The artists almost displaced vocals are layered over an evocative piano melody with some synthy loops joining in at the end. The superb “You Wear Me Out” comes next and it’s a real evocative, uplifting groove with some real reflective thoughts on a strained relationship.

A change of direction with “Hold on Jerry” which starts out quite jauntily before filling out with all sorts of different instruments, a quite uplifting song reflecting on life and death.

“You Keep Hanging On” is anthemic love song with powerful and passionate expressions of adoration. The penultimate track “The Flag” is a lament about the loss of a lover / friend and trying to cope with the overwhelming despair of the situation without succumbing to self harm or suicide.

The album is concluded with “Daddy, The War Machine” a varied sound mix of drum machine and piano licks with lyrics accepting the inevitability of war to come and the consequences.

Joseph Arthur is a musician, who for the most part writes songs from guitar, but this album was written at the piano, a Steinway Vertegrande from 1912, that he’d recently acquired.

This aged instrument, ended up in Joseph’s studio and was a potent source of inspiration.

This is a wonderfully eclectic album full of beautiful acoustic melodies dealing with some difficult issues that happen within the family structure such as war, murder, despair, love, loss and fate. An intensely thought provoking offering, from somebody who surely has to be one of the hardest working and multi talented artists around. If you purchase one album this year, make it this one it will not disappoint.

Rating 9/10


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