The aptly titled Lou, Joseph Arthur’s heartfelt homage to the late Lou Reedis more than a mere tribute alone. After all, Arthur’s own dour, dark and distinctive persona appears to directly emulate his friend Reed’s austere approach. It’s appropriate then that these songs, drawn from Reed’s extensive canon — both solo and as part of the Velvet Underground — are presented in stripped down settings consisting solely of piano and/or guitar, allowing a personal perspective that makes them all the more revealing.
In the revealing liner notes, Arthur describes how he struggled to achieve those ends, but in listening to these surprisingly tender reads of “Walk on the Wild Side,” “NYC Man” and “Pale Blue Eyes,” sadness and sentiment moot much of the cynicism. Even Reed’s most infamous anthem, the daunting “Heroin,” finds its rush of adrenalin teetering between immortality and insanity. Nevertheless, Arthur’s attempt to — in his words — “bring out something unheard before” in order to reveal new perspectives succeeds admirably.
Ultimately, Lou emerges as a humble bow to both the man and the music.
Joseph Arthur was well aware of the expectations and potential pitfalls of recording a Lou Reed tribute album. It wasn't even his idea. When it was pitched to him by Vanguard A&R man Bill Bentley in November 2013, mere weeks after Reed's death, he only very reluctantly agreed to consider the idea.
Reed had befriended the New York-based Arthur in the mid-'90s just as his career was beginning to blossom with release of his 1997 debut on Peter Gabriel's Real World label (Reed even took him out for ice cream after signing to celebrate the feat).
Sixteen years and ten albums later, a tour-hardened veteran Arthur returned home after weeks on the road to attend his friend's final tribute show at the Apollo Theater and decided to try out a few songs at his home studio using only acoustic guitar and piano. Taking a simplistic approach to Reed's songs was the only way to make this album work. Reed's best music was subtle in that way with phrases and arrangements boiled down to their minimalist essence. He often made huge statements with his understatement and unwavering attitude. Bravely taking on some of the best-known cuts from Reed's canon, Arthur strips songs like "Heroin," "Satellite of Love," and even "Walk on the Wild Side" down, interpreting them honestly and organically with his expressive, embattled voice.
There is obvious respect and reverence for the material and for Reed's style, but Arthur is also his own artist with a great body of work and years of touring to his credit. He manages to get lost in these familiar songs without becoming too subservient to their original versions or feeling the need to veer too far from them in order to make his statement. His versions of "Sword of Damocles," "Coney Island Baby," and "Dirty Blvd." are all tactfully handled, receiving more of a wistful reinterpretation than a showboating reinvention.
A less experienced artist might not have been so reserved, but the veteran Arthur knows how to treat a song, whether it be his own material or something as iconic as the Velvet Underground's "Stephanie Says." As a tribute, Lou is deftly made and should please, or at the very least fail to offend, Lou Reed fans. As a Joseph Arthur album, it's a nice comedown from 2013's massive, lushly produced double album The Ballad of Boogie Christ.
It has the organic purity of an acoustic (American Recordings-era) Rick Rubin production, but sonically falls more in line with something like Robyn Hitchcock's Eye, with its rough edges, beautifully rickety harmonies, and homemade charm. It has the shared benefit of coming across as both an honestly intended tribute to an artistic mentor as well as another well-made record in Arthur's impressive catalog.
Sword of Damocles Pale Blue Eyes Dirty Blvd. Speed of Light King of Cleveland Still Life Honey Rose In the Sun The Ballad of Boogie Christ Black Lexus I Used to Know How to Walk on Water Black Flowers Walk on the Wild Side Heroin I Miss the Zoo Out on a Limb Coney Island Baby Saint of Impossible Causes (Don't Go Back to) Rockville Blue Lights in the Rear View Currency of Love
The concert was officially recorded, and available for download on SETFM website.
"Real World wants me to write a note or paragraph about its significance to me but the truth is, I could write a book on it. At least the start of a book, because in many ways the life I’ve lived for going on twenty years started there. I have magical (and I’m not using that word lightly) memories of it. Also some heartbreaking (also not used lightly) ones. The heartbreaking ones are not specifically about Real World as much as just my dreaded experience of the music business. So let’s start with the magical ones, or some of them.
For a start, I met Joe Strummer there. In hindsight, he was like a rock & roll angel. As bad as that line is or sounds, it’s just the truth. His spirit and enthusiasm has stuck with me thru the years. I remember playing him an early version of “Daddy’s on Prozac” and he asked, “Where’s the bass, man?”…“There isn’t any.”… “Make it huge,” he said. “Put bass on it.” Later, he told me I was the real deal and that “there are few real deals, so don’t ever let anyone tell you different.”
That’s advice I haven’t always followed, advice I’m still trying to live up to. This was in the mid-nineties and I was 25 and really green, fresh-off-the-boat green. A nerd. I smoked my first spliff with him there. I didn’t understand the concept of hash sprinkled on tobacco. Where I’m from (America), we smoke pure weed. Take a toke and pass it. He rolled this huge thing that I had no idea what it was and didn’t have the gumption to ask but after he (I thought rudely, at the time) hit it way more than the one time he passed it to me. I smoked it without hesitation, emulating the number of tokes he took and got virtually no buzz from it. It was more of a communal cigarette than the deeply psychedelic smoke excursions we participated in in Ohio. Pure weed is better, but I digress.
The occasion for all this was something called Recording Week, where families from India and African musicians come together with likes of Joe, Peter Gabriel, Karl Wallinger, Iggy Pop. Hell, even Johnny Depp was there with Kate Moss, along with a laundry list of extremely talented producers and engineers– Tchad Blake, Brian Eno, John Leckie and Stephan Hague to name a few. Saying I was way out of my depth is the understatement of the year. Having come from a garbage one-room apartment, which also was a whorehouse rampant with cockroaches, working minimum wage and barely holding onto my sanity, I believe Peter Gabriel saved my life by bringing me there. (Maybe that’s dramatic. Maybe not.)
I remember hanging out on the lawn in the sun right outside the studio, taking it all in and doing my best to act like I belonged there when Peter came up to me and said, “Me and Karl are working on a track upstairs and would like you to help us out on it.”… I said nervously, “Sure, you want me to play bass?” (In my mind, I was a bass player, at that time only having been singing and writing songs for a few short years.) He said, “No, I was thinking you could write lyrics and sing.”… And this in a nutshell explains the magic of Real World and Peter Gabriel for me. He saw something in me before I saw it in myself. If Joe was rock & roll angel, Peter was like a rock & roll father. He more than gave me my start; he gave me my confidence. He believed in me when no one else did and the world he brought me into was in fact real, tho at the time it seemed like it was anything but.
The first producer I worked with at Real World was John Leckie. This was after Recording Week, after everyone had left. I stayed because really that week changed me. I didn’t really belong anywhere else anymore. Secret doors had opened and I found myself born into unbelievable rooms, namely a room where my art and my music was being taken seriously by serious people. The funny thing about enthusiasm and belief is that they spread. And tho belief is never really total because in this world, what can we really be sure of? But it’s amazing how fast someone else’s belief can grow in you, especially if that person is a living legend.
Also, the laws of the jungle kick in. I wasn’t exaggerating the dire existence I had before this moment and I also was exaggerating it’s life-threatening effect. So not only was this a musical dream come true, a dream I had never dreamed, it was my ticket to a better life. And it’s not as tho I started with no belief. I thought I was good, but just not that good. Or more accurately, deep down I knew I belonged, but I was young and deeply insecure, like most of us are when we are young. So anyway, the week after Recording Week, my belief had grown exponentially and my act of faking like I belonged was becoming more believable, even to me. Others take you seriously and you start taking yourself that way until you actually become something worthy of that attention. Real World helped me grow from minute one and on many different levels. With growth comes growing pains and people there, including Peter, had to accept the swings of my damaged personality and accept them they miraculously did. Not that I was all bad. I could tell I was somehow breathing more light into the place, if for no other reason than their own good karma for helping a potentially talented kid in need. And I’m good for a laugh, at the very least.
I worked with John Leckie, helped out by Ben Findley who engineered and we recorded almost every song I had at the time; solo acoustic with some light production on a few tracks. One that stands out was called “Papa,” which I wrote on Joe’s famous Telecaster while watching him play with his little girl in the green sun of the lavish Real World lawn. By then, I had acquired my own stash of this mysterious hash and learned how to role these ineffectual spliffs that seemed to be all the rage with the English cannibis culture.
One day I asked John if he even felt the effects when he smoked these things. He nodded affirmatively with a smile and I said impatiently, “Well, I don’t. Let’s go down to the kitchen; I have an idea.”.
So we took a break from this “Papa” song and went down there. It was night and we were in the kitchen alone.
I took a pan and a half-stick of butter and lit the flame on the stove until the butter began to bubble. Adjusting the flame to low, I put the rest of my hash in the butter and watched as it melted into a brown goo. The whole kitchen smelled like a Bob Marley fairytale (my audacity astounds me but hey, I was young).
I proceeded to take a piece of bread and rip it in two, lathering on a healthy heap of said brown goo onto each piece, handing John one and without hesitation, we both inhaled my awful creation. Returning to work on the track upstairs, it wasn’t long before things got weird. A ghost flew by. A voice scattered into moths in my brain. The song was stunning and moving and we turned it up loud and speakers both burst into flames. Neither of us moved. The fire wasn’t real but it burned bright and soon I said to John, “I think I need to go to bed.” I overshot the need to get stoned.
Fully hallucinating, I closed my eyes in one those great rooms they have there and the next time I opened them, it was 6 PM the following evening. I shot up out of my bed and darted to the studio, still with the minimum-wage mentality that I might have lost my job due to extreme lateness (our normal start time was noon). When I got there, John was there and I began apologizing profusely until he stopped me, saying he just got here himself and we began to laugh and laugh a lot.
After a few days, my session with John and Ben was over. The label wanted to review the tracks and see if we should keep going with John as producer. I still had nowhere to really be and Real World was introduced to me as a kind of utopian village. It’s hard to believe, but in some way I kind of assumed I could just keep staying there. I don’t really know what was going thru my head, but it wasn’t until the studio manager Owen or someone else told me that I couldn’t actually stay there, reminding me that it was, in fact, a commercial institution that I finally left but I didn’t go back to New York or Atlanta. From there, I went to a new friend’s place in South London. I had just met this friend, Graham, the week before. Graham had crashed the Real World Recording Week, piggy-backing off of the Glastonbury Festival as Joe Strummer had. Some people from that festival had heard about what was happening at Real World and made it their destination after the festival, to keep the festival spirit growing and going, to bring it with them.
Graham and I were fast friends. I had followed a cute girl into the studio. She asked me to play on something and then suddenly there was Graham and he was an instant brother, instant best friend. We remain close to this day and have gone on countless tours together.
When Real World told me firmly but nicely that I had to go, Graham was my first call…. “Come stay with us,” he said… “We have a couch with your name on it.” I jumped at the chance. He even picked me up at the train station. I was lost in London but that’s where the adventure of my adult life really began."
2014-01-01 City Winery, New York, NY, USASET FM 2014-01-16/18 Todos Santos Music Festival, Todos Santos, BCS, Mexico 2014-01-23 McCabe's Guitar Shop, Santa Monica, CA, USASET FM 2014-01-25 2014 NAMM Show / Anaheim C.C., Anaheim, CA, USA 2014-01-30 New York Guitar Festival, New York, NY, USA 2014-03-29 BRIC House, Brooklyn, NY, USASET FM 2014-04-03 Late Show with David LettermanWYCYEAH 2014-04-11 WFUV Rita Houston 20yrs @ City Winery, New York, NY, USAWYCYEAH 2014-04-19 Live @ Drew's, Ringwood, NJ, USA 2014-04-28 Trail 103.3 FM (KDTR) Radio session, Missoula, MT, USAWYCYEAH 2014-04-30 Tin Angel, Philadelphia, PA, USA SET FM 2014-05-01 WTMD First Thursdays, Towson, MD, USA 2014-05-06 City Winery, Chicago, IL, USA 2014-05-08 City Winery, New York, NY, USA 2014-05-10 WMNF Tropical Heatwave, Ybor City, FL, USA 2014-05-09 Relix Magazine, New York, NY, USA 2014-05-10 The Sixties Show, 88-5 WMNF Radio, TampaWYCYEAH
2014-05-12 Caffè Lena, Saratoga Springs, NY, USA 2014-05-14 Théâtre Petit Champlain, Québec, QC, Canada 2014-05-16 Cabaret Eastman, Eastman, QC, Canada 2014-05-17 Café culturel de la Chasse-galerie, Lavatrie, QC, Canada 2014-05-18 Rickk's Room, Wentworth-Nord, QC, Canada 2014-05-19 Live @ 5, Radio Woodstock 100.1WYCYEAH
2014-05-21 Disco Grande, Radio 3, RTVE WYCYEAH 2014-05-22 Boite Live, Madrid, Spain SET FM 2014-05-23 Escenario Santander, Santander, Spain 2014-05-24 Cinema Theatre Modelo, Zarautz, Spain SET FM
2014-05-26 Botanique, Brussels, Belgium SET FM 2014-05-27 LeCargo Session, Paris, France WYCYEAH 2014-05-27 Le Trabendo, Paris, France SET FM 2014-05-28 Tivoli, Utrecht, Netherlands SET FM 2014-05-29 Dingwalls, London, UK 2014-06-04 Sonic Boom In-Store, Seattle, WA,USA 2014-06-05 KEXP Radio session, Seattle, WA, USA WYCYEAH 2014-06-05 Columbia City Theater, Seattle, WA, USASET FM 2014-06-06 BING Lounge, KINK Radio, Portland, OR, USA WYCYEAH 2014-06-06Bunk Bar Water, Portland, OR, USA 2014-06-07 Music Millenium In-store, Portland, OR, USA 2014-06-08 Brick & Mortar, San Francisco, CA, USA 2014-06-10 Acoustic Guitar Magazine Session, L.A, CA, USA 2014-06-10 Troubadour, West Hollywood (L.A.), CA, USA 2014-06-12 Fingerprints Music, Long Beach, CA, USAWYCYEAH 2014-06-13 Lethal Amounts Gallery, L.A, CA, USA 2014-06-25 Chez André at The Standard Hotel, NYC, NY, USA 2014-07-03 Pearl Jam Radio (Guest DJ/acoustic session), Washington, DC, USA 2014-07-17 ARTV Studio, Montreal, Canada 2014-08-26 Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR, USA 2014-08-27 Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR, USA 2014-08-29 Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, BC, CAN 2014-09-05 Virgin Mobile Corona Theatre, Montreal, QC, CAN 2014-09-06 The Drake Hotel, Toronto, ON, CAN 2014-09-09 House Of Blues Cleveland, Cleveland, OH, USA 2014-09-10 St Andrews Hall, Detroit, MI, USA 2014-09-12 Ready Room, St. Louis, MO, USA 2014-09-13 WFPK Members Only Show, Louisville, USA WYCYEAH 2014-09-16 The Cannery Ballroom, Nashville, TN, USA 2014-09-18 The Beacham, Orlando, FL, USA 2014-09-19 Center Stage Theater, Atlanta, GA, USA 2014-09-20 Civic Theatre, New Orleans, LA, USA WYCYEAH 2014-09-26 MidPoint Music Festival, Cincinnati, OH, USA 2014-09-27 Mr. Smalls Theatre, Millvale, PA, USA 2014-09-30 Royale Boston, Boston, MA, USA 2014-09-30 WERS 88.9, Boston, MA, USA WYCYEAH 2014-10-01 930 Club, Washington, DC, USA 2014-10-03 Union Transfer, Philadelphia, PA, USA WYCYEAH 2014-10-05 Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY, USA 2014-10-07 Cat's Cradle, Carrboro, NC, USA 2014-10-08 The Orange Peel, Asheville, NC, USA 2014-10-10 93XRT, Chicago, IL, USA 2014-10-10 Metro, Chicago, IL, USA 2014-10-11 First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN, USA 2014-10-12 The Current 98.8, Minneapolis, MN, USA 2014-10-13 Collector's edition, 88.1 KDHX, Saint Louis, USA 2014-10-23 The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA, USA 2014-10-24 Belly Up, Solana Beach, CA, USA 2014-10-25 Fonda Theatre, Los Angeles, CA, USA 2014-10-27 KCRW Morning Becomes Eclectic, Santa Monica, CA, USA WYCYEAH 2014-10-28 Urban Lounge, Salt Lake City, UT, USA 2014-10-29 Bluebird Theater, Denver, CO, USA 2014-10-31 Mowhawk, Austin, TX, USA 2014-11-26 The Tangier, Akron, OH, USA 2014-12-12 Outpost In The Burbs, Montclair, NJ, USA