This month’s Bowers & Wilkins Society of Sound release is a celebration of 10 years of outstanding...
Thu, 24 May 18
Released 09 September 2013
“The Ballad of Boogie Christ is unlike anything I’ve ever done before. It’s a big production featuring horns and brass and living legends like Garth Hudson, Ben Harper, Jim Keltner, Joan Wasser and many others. I can’t wait for you to hear it. This is the one I’ve been waiting for years to put out.” Joseph Arthur
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).
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