The Ballad of Boogie Christ Acts 1 & 2 (Double Album)
Joseph Arthur, 2013
Joseph Arthur returns to Real World Records to release The Ballad of Boogie Christ - a new high point in his critically acclaimed, Grammy-nominated career that has spanned nine full-length albums and 11 EPs.
For every song Joseph Arthur has released, he's probably kept three others in the vault for safekeeping. Indeed, Arthur has been known to start working on a new album -- or two -- while simultaneously trying to finish another.
It was amid this abundance of riches that the Brooklyn-by way of Ohio-native began molding a collection of music under a single narrative thread: The Ballad of Boogie Christ, described by Arthur as "a fictionalized character loosely based on my own journey."
The Ballad of Boogie Christ has become another essential cornerstone of Arthur's robust discography. Encompassing sessions put to tape in upstate New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Arthur's own Brooklyn studio, the 24-song double album showcases the artist's signature rich storytelling set to a diverse range of rock'n'roll.
"I don't know that there's a beginning, middle and end to the story, but there are definitely experiences, situations and perspectives that point in those directions," says Arthur. "I wanted to let the listener fill in some of the blanks without telling the whole story in a straight-ahead way."
The album begins with the surprising orchestral pop of "Currency of Love", on which Arthur unveils a passionate croon unlike any vocal performance he's ever given. From there, Boogie Christ offers epic affirmations on overcoming addiction (the seven-minute closer "All The Old Heroes"), anthems of open-hearted solidarity ("Wait For Your Lights", "It's OK To Be Young/Gone") and the kinds of slow-burning narratives ("Famous Friends Along The Coast", "I Used To Know How To Walk On Water" and a reimagined, hymn-like version of his standout, "I Miss The Zoo") that have won Arthur a legion of fans around the globe.
"There are certain moments on the album that are just pop music and sugary," Arthur says. "I didn't want it to be this diatribe of heaviness, and it had been like that sometimes. I definitely wanted moments of relief within it, where you just get a good jam."
At the center of the project is the autobiographical "King of Cleveland", a classic story song that connects Boogie Christ the character with Arthur the flesh-and-blood artist. On it, the narrator apprentices alongside a big fish in a small pond, "playing blues in the back seats, from biker bars to limousines" -- much like Arthur did in his early professional career in Northeast Ohio. Says Arthur, "He's just starting to live the life he's imagined, playing roots boogie in the real America -- Ohio."
"I've heard David Bowie talk about how Ziggy Stardust and some other records were the beginnings of screenplays that he just never finished," he says. "I could really see this becoming something deeper and bigger than just an album.
"Chuck Prophet reminded me that there's always the Great American Novel," he continues. "And that really stuck in my head about Boogie Christ. That's what I've been wanting to achieve with this album. He encouraged me that it was okay to dream big."
The 12 songs on Act 2 extend the themes and vivid narratives introduced on Act 1.
Opener "Blue Lights in the Rear View" chronicles two lovers robbing a house, trying to hightail it out of town and ultimately getting arrested, while "Maybe Yes," "I Am the Witness" and album closer "In the City" are loose-limbed rockers that show off Arthur's playful and spontaneous side.
Elsewhere, "Holding the Void" employs gentle acoustic guitar finger-picking, pedal steel, harmonica, angelic backing vocals and winsome piano to paint the portrait of a woman stuck "in a world of her own making," while the uplifting "House of Your Love" reassures that "in your hopes and dreams, compassion will go on for eternity."
Says Arthur of part 2, "I feel like it definitely tells a story. It sounds ridiculous to quote your mom, but she equated this album to the end of a novel. She's a tough critic, so I took her opinion as a really good sign."
The album's highlight is the gripping "Akron Skies", which reminds that buried deep within every rock'n'roll star are formative childhood memories of pain and confusion. "That song is rooted in the personal in a little more of an obvious way," Arthur says. "'Akron Skies' paints the picture of a child who escapes into his imagination to perhaps leave an uncomfortable place. It shows how darkness can bring us to our dreams."
Among other guest musicians, The Ballad of Boogie Christ features The Band's legendary keyboardist Garth Hudson, bassist Catherine Popper (Ryan Adams, Jack White), multi instrumentalist Chris Seefried (Fitz & the Tantrums, Lana Del Rey), singer and guitarist Ben Harper (Arthur's bandmate in Fistful of Mercy), session drummer extraordinaire Jim Keltner, Joan As Policewoman leader Joan Wasser and composer Paul Cantelon (Oliver Stone's W., Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell & the Butterfly).
- ...it's so damn fine it needs that extra care and attention and time flies by as the music flows. It's a journey that takes you deep into the mind and soul of Joseph Arthur where you can re-imagine his lyrics to suit your own state of mind. Overall it has a cinematic quality to it and a deep soulfulness, it's arty and poetic, but what do you expect from a tortured artist such as Joseph Arthur? A poet, an artist and a modern day troubadour. uberrock.co.uk (Online)
- ...upbeat tunes all sung in pleasing, husky tones. Grammy nominated Arthur's 10th album portrays "a fictionalised character loosely based on my own journey". Bare acoustic tracks with fuller band on upbeat tunes all sung in pleasing, husky tones. Mojo (UK)
- upbeat and catchy, clever and deep Joseph Arthur's new album The Ballad of Boogie Christ is full of his trademark searching lyrics, upbeat and catchy, clever and deep. mirror.co.uk (Online)
- Some very moving moments... There is no doubt that (Joseph Arthur) is capable of some very moving moments: Wait For Your Lights, and I Used To Know How To Walk On Water have an impressive, brooding intensity. Sunday Express (UK)
- A sprawling, double-page spread, bursting with ideas and dazzling musicianship. Smart, ironic, playful, Arthur unfolds a sprawling, double-page spread, bursting with ideas and dazzling musicianship. … madly brilliant and a leading contender for best "unclassifiable" album of 2013 Acoustic Magazine (UK)
- If anyone is truly deserving of the title of 'artist', it's the mercurial talent that is Joseph Arthur If anyone is truly deserving of the title of 'artist', it's the mercurial talent that is Joseph Arthur. Originally discovered by Peter Gabriel, and subsequently signed to his Real World record label, he quickly established a reputation as a formidable and prolific talent, especially live, where he was pioneering the use of loop pedals and layered vocals years before Ed Sheeran and the rest picked up on it. Shortlist.com (Online)
- Visceral and alive, crawling and infected... The 24 tracks over two CDs point to an artist who is both gifted and prolific. ... over 100 minutes of music might be a lot to take in, but patience will be more that repaid in this case. ... This is visceral and alive, crawling and infected. It's sprawling in the way a city does. ... It teeters on a knife edge between iconoclasm and the need for salvation, a razor wire stretched taut between hedonism and torture, stupor and unknowable highs, mercy and mortal danger. Joseph Arthur has walked it without a safety net. All you need to do is sit back and listen. folkradio.co.uk (Online)
- A diverse, rewarding listen New takes on old songs combined with refreshingly alive and soulful pseudo glam songs like It's OK To Be Young / Gone make The Ballad Of Boogie Christ a diverse, rewarding listen. musicomh.com (Online)
- His best album ... will be hard to beat for album of the year. Joseph Arthur has at last made his best album and will be hard to beat for album of the year. His pallet for a new richer sound has paid off without losing any of his ear for a hook. ... see you at the front on his small tour of the UK in the autumn. neverenoughnotes.co.uk (Online)
- ...a musical highlight of the year... Arthur is the guiding force throughout and it his artistry and actualisation of such that makes this lengthy Ballad a musical highlight of the year and a Great American Novel where you'll want to dog-ear and wear out your favourite chapters. thedigitalfix.com (Online)
- 'I Miss the Zoo' is stunning. This truly shows Arthur to be the exceptional and consistently good performer that he is and long may it continue. 8/10 www.shout4music.com (Online)
- Arthur's usual sharp lyricism - it's the best thing he's done since 2004 Religion, addiction and survival are all examined with Arthur's usual sharp lyricism, and it's the best thing he's done since 2004... Arthur has always been a man of the moment, whether it be his dramatic live performances, his expressive art or his copious amounts of albums and EPs. 4/5 The Daily Express (UK)
- 'Missy Baba' with its piano and snare drum beat is blissful on the ears. His fans will of course lap this one up and Joseph Arthur is deserving of your time and attention as he has that knack of matching storytelling lyrics with damn fine tunes. www.getreadytorock.me.uk (Online)
- ...singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur's sheer poetic nature and experimental sonic proclivity is beyond comparison to anyone. Arthur's The Ballad of Boogie Christ is perhaps his most focused, yet stylistically eccentric work; a creative mind at play with avant-garde swaths of rock, folk, and soul from the mind of a true visionary. With emotive storytelling expressed through an artist's eyes, Arthur's melancholy goes straight to the heart. Elmore Magazine Online (USA)
- In terms of his prolific output, diverse sonic palette... ...balancing experimentalism with accessibility and his sheer sincerity, he's nearly unrivaled among his peers. Popmatters.com (USA)
- Newa triple threat... ...artist since the mid-'90s, bridging music, poetry and painting with prolific creativity and unyielding inventiveness. NPR Music (USA)
- Top 25 best albums of 2013 Joseph Arthur, "The Ballad of Boogie Christ" The singer-songwriter's ever-shifting artistic interests are leaning more toward Dylanesque folk these days, with the rollicking "I Miss the Zoo" and the stunning "King of Cleveland." Newsday.com (USA)
- This is a vibrant, uplifting and ultimately rewarding record Joseph Arthur is heading into his third decade as a performer and is making some of the most interesting music of his career. And how many artists can say that? Subba-Cultcha.com (USA)
- Joseph Arthur is a long-term disrupter and a challenger of the norms. He is possibly the most talented musician of the last twenty years in the US. Over the years, he has adapted and changed his style but has always amazed with his offering. Long may this disrupter bring joy to our lives. The Huffington Post (UK)
- Joseph Arthur is finally delivering the masterpiece he's worked towards his whole career: ...his Exile, his Blonde On Blonde, his Disintegration, his watershed. Arthur belts it out with the glorious spirituality of U2, Rough redemption, validation of the real, something Joseph Arthur has striven for through a lifetime of music. It sounds like he's being reborn. Amoeba.com (USA)
- It's worth seeking out... The Ballad of Boogie Christ wraps with the seven-plus minute "All the Old Heroes," which was released in advance as a video. It's worth seeking out...Joey Ramone, Shirley Temple, Superman, Gandhi, Twiggy, Dukes of Hazzard, Bob Marley, Captain Kangaroo. They're all there. They flash by and you think something like, "I get it. Heroes are those people who show us how to really go for it." And that's exactly what Arthur is doing with The Ballad of Boogie Christ. Going for it." Blurt (USA)
- ...rock and folk melodies meet a touch of soul and psychedelia... ...in the service of his candid tenor and lyrics peering into a psyche in communication with despair, desolation and doubt but nonetheless, open, engaged, uncowed, and, Arthur hopes, with a sense of fun intact. Billboard (USA)
- The Ballad of Boogie Christ is a full-scale production of storytelling and exciting instrumentation... After thirteen years in the music bizz, Joseph Arthur clearly knows the equation for entertaining, poignant songs, and doesn't show any signs of stopping. mxdwn.com (USA)
- To say that The Ballad of Boogie Christ is inspired is an understatement. It was written, performed, cut, and mixed with great care, and as such delivers Arthur's creative vision with abundant emotional power. allmusic.com (USA)
- Arthur has rarely been more focused... The welcome shock of the new - notably a staggering soul-revue holler in Currency of Love - is balanced by the warm familiarity of some long-standing staples from the live show. ...Arthur is rarely content to stay in one place for long. Let's enjoy his Technicolor phase while it lasts. Montreal Gazette (Canada)
- "The Ballad of Boogie Christ weaves beautiful narratives in and out of folksy numbers and rock songs... ...adding a layered palette of horn solos and soulful back-up singers. In short, there's a reason why Arthur calls this album one of the "richest" projects he's worked on during his 17-year career. Listen to the whole album in one sitting, and you'll feel like you've traveled a long journey with the 41-year-old singer-one that leads you from addiction, to recovery, to making amends and affirming friends, and, finally, to the light at the end of that long, dark tunnel." Americansongwriter.com (USA)
- Joseph Arthur has been cranking out critically acclaimed material for over a decade and a half... ...and now the singer-songwriter is back with a bold new venture. Paste (USA)
- The Ballad Of Boogie Christ, a true masterpiece...Arthur's most ambitious and focused work in over a decade. ...as the artist documents his struggle with addiction, redemption and recovery by finally managing to triumph over the art that chooses to channel through him. ... By simply releasing The Ballad of Boogie Christ after years of work, Arthur has managed to win the battle of focus over instant gratification, and it shows. This is not fast food from a factory farm, every riff and melody is home grown and fine tuned into a four star, twelve course feast fit for a king. The album has taken everything Arthur has to offer and puts it out on the table. While it would be careless to pretend to know how much of Boogie Christ's struggle is fictional and how much is personal, with these twelve tracks Arthur has made the soundtrack for the moment you finally overcome whatever obstacle life puts in your path. No matter how hard the journey and the struggle may be, Arthur has made the perfect musical roadmap to get you safely through to the other side. Antiquiet.com (USA)