REVIEW : The Family - Goldenplec.com
by Danny Kilmartin
In 2013, prior to the release of his album ‘Ballad of Boogie Christ’, Joseph Arthur bought a 1912 Steinway Vertegrand piano for his Brooklyn based studio, Red Hook. The piano had been owned by a single family. On this piano, Arthur composed, recorded and leant a voice to a baker’s dozen of songs which intertwine and overlap to tell a tale of his very own, with Grammy Award winning engineer Tchad Blake (The Black Keys, U2) handling mixing duties.
Stylistically, sonically, and emotionally; ‘The Family’ is difficult, intricate and borders on the eclectic and obscure. Each track tells the tale of a different member of Arthur’s extended family; some fictional and others real.
Thematically, Arthur sings of loss, disruption, reconciliation, abandonment, despair, disdain, agitation and love, always underpinned with a strong sense of intrigue. Ethel Was Born tells the tale of a child born on the day the Titanic sank and a father’s suicide, while When I Look at You and You Keep Hanging On are simplistic, melodic pop numbers.
They Call Him Lightning sees raw, bluesy guitars and elegant pianos laid thick over a ramshackle drum loop to set in place the story of a WWII veteran. You Wear Me Out sees an addict nagged by her long-suffering husband about their children over a backdrop of reverberated guitars and verbose keys.
Meanwhile, the synth-laden Hold on Jerry juxtaposes a heart-wrenching chorus (‘this love is complicated/this death is overrated’) over what may be the album’s hookiest arrangement.
As tumultuous as the album’s sequencing and flow may be, it serves a purpose and Arthur’s attention to sonic and emotional detail is paid meticulously here; and is well complimented by his impassioned, soulful vocal of impressive range.
‘The Family’ does not aim to make a magnificent statement, but rather a personal one. Though gloomy at its core, it is no less poignant for it; gentle despite its bite. It’s effective as what it is; a labour of love, and a tribute to the family that may or may not have birthed it.