Big City Secrets

Joseph Arthur

Released 23 June 1997

  1. Big City Secrets
  2. Mercedes
  3. Mikel K
  4. Good About Me
  5. Daddy's On Prozac
  6. Marina
  7. Birthday Card
  8. Crying Like A Man
  9. Porcupine
  10. Dessert
  11. Haunted Eyes
  12. Bottle Of You

Liner notes

Witty, cutting, rasping, picking, thumping and strumming —Joseph Arthur owes his heritage to Dylan, Waits, Cohen and Young, his record deal to Gabriel and his sound to the technology of the nineties. Arthur is a social and emotional commentator on the western world, armed with an acoustic guitar and a box of Joe’s echoes. Disturbing and extraordinary.

Joseph came home in a good mood. The girl he had been chasing had let him catch her. Life seemed to be taking a positive turn. He turned on the lights and listened to his messages. “Hi. This is Peter Gabriel… got the tape… you write really good songs. I’ll call you back.” He did, several times, and when Joseph Arthur took the tape to his boss as proof of his need for a break from his job, he was on a promise of live concerts and a record deal. His boss agreed. In fact, the job is still there if he needs it, but Joe probably isn’t going back.

“Put my Daddy on Prozac. I don’t think I want him back.” lyric excerpt from 'Daddy's On Prozac'

The promise was kept. Since signing to Real World Records, Joseph Arthur has toured internationally, solo, with a band and as part of WOMAD, and his first album Big City Secrets is released in the new year. Joseph Arthur proves that the classic American singer/songwriter is still alive, angry and actively absorbing and reflecting experiences and sounds.

Photo credit: Michelle Turriani
“And she’s sleeping and screaming watching 90210. She’ll be yelling at the screen until the late night show.” lyric excerpt from 'Marina'

Live and solo, Joseph Arthur is a rasping voice, spitting venom or lamenting lost love over a confidently plucked acoustic guitar. Occasionally, he is supported by his “Jam Man”, building multi-layered sonic loops on stage, like a backing band of Joe’s echoes. He sits and sings and demands a hearing. It is a disturbing experience, captured on his first, raw EP Cut and Blind, four earthy songs on the Sell My Soup Records sub-label.

The album Big City Secrets will emerge all shiny and extraordinary with the new year of 1997. It shows how to lose the luddite in the singer/songwriter tradition. Loops, grooves and low, low sub-bass play a powerful supporting role but the song is still king.

The official video for 'Daddy's On Prozac', directed by Zach Larner
“When they ask you what’s your church, you say I dance.” lyric excerpt from 'Good About Me'

Joseph Arthur’s voice on the album is sweet one moment and saw-toothed the next. His words are razor sharp and cut like the one-line drawings that deface his lyric sheets. He doesn’t sing pretty but while paying homage to the nasal, grating genius of messers Dylan, Cohen, Waits and Young, Joseph Arthur has more heart and more charm.

“I squeeze the last bit of you out of a bottle of your old shampoo. It smells just like you. Now I do too.” lyric excerpt from 'Bottle Of You'
Photo credit: Michelle Turriani

Joseph Arthur remains wary of all this attention. He describes his own journey from Akron, Ohio, to Gabriel’s green Wiltshire refuge, via the seedy and secular sides of Atlanta, Georgia, as a crooked path to Mammon. “Joseph was fast acquiring the snake-like qualities one needs to become king for a day in this expensive world,” he scribbled of himself, only half-convinced of his own ironic intent. But Joseph Arthur’s soul runs the show and on seeing him play or listening to his record, one knows that his cynicism loses the argument to his heart.

Reviews

  • Arthur is a troubadour with a twist. He weaves vivid and richly detailed tales, but he does so with a sense of irony that sets him far apart from the hyper-sensitive competition. Billboard (USA)
  • A rich, mellow, free-wheeling work ...it hints at greatness. The Daily Telegraph (UK)
  • He'll come on like Counting Crows one minute, the Dave Matthews Band the next, or become a Leonard Cohen wannabe ... after your guard is down and you've started playing name-that-influence, he grabs your attention back with massive hooks. Option (USA)
  • An example of true constitution, sensitivity and originality. Midi Libre (France)
  • This is a rare debut album signed by a sincere artist. It deserves to be discovered. Encore (France)

Listen

Credits

Produced by Markus Dravs. Engineered and digitally edited by Ben Findlay. Mixed by Markus Dravs with Ben Findlay. Additional engineers: Ruadhri Cushnan, Ray Martin, Goetz Botzenhardt, Ibi Tijani, Jacquie Turner, Nick Kirkland. Assistant engineers: Justin Griffith, Lee Phillips, Lee Fitzgerald, Mark Aubury. Additional editors: Crispin Murray, Paul Morris. Recorded and mixed at Real World Studios, England. Additional venues: Swanyard Studios, Eastcote Studios, Berwick Street Studios in England; Shelter Island Studios in New York.

All paintings and drawings by Joseph Arthur. A Real World Design. Graphic Design by Tristan Manco. Photography: front and back covers of booklet by Michele Turriani, inlay and CD face by Anna Gabriel.

All songs written and composed by Joseph Arthur. All tracks published by Real World Music Ltd/EMI Music Publishing Ltd

Special thanks to Harvey Schwartz, Rob Bozas and Peter Gabriel

  • Come To Where I’m From

    Joseph Arthur

    Released 11 April 2000

    Come To Where I'm From is Joseph Arthur’s second album for Real World. Co-produced by the mighty T-Bone Burnett, it's a dense, attractively claustrophobic record, full of delightful contradictions: unnerving and reassuring, raw and yet meticulously compiled.
  • Big Blue Ball

    Various Artists

    Released 28 July 2008

    Almost eighteen years in the making, Big Blue Ball grew from three extraordinary Recording Weeks at Real World Studios in the summers of 1991, 1992 and 1995. With Peter Gabriel and Karl Wallinger at the helm, the album features a huge cast of performers with a global reach.

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