Joseph Arthur may be one of the last true artists left in the world. Come To Where I'm From (Real World/Virgin) is a crossroads where dark trip-hop beats become alive and warmly human when subtly blended with rich acoustic guitars and Arthur's gravelly, weathered voice. Arthur's journeys into darkness and introspection reverberate with unmistakable optimism. Where I'm From vaguely references Beck and Neil Young with dusky Leonard Cohen/Lou Reed atmospheres and the anguished tranquility of the Verve.
Then again, such diversity would be expected from a man who was approached by Peter Gabriel to become the first American artist signed to his world-music-oriented label Real World. Gabriel's confidence in Arthur's talent and patience with his musical development was just what Arthur needed to hone his musicianship.
"[Gabriel's] friendship and mentoring has been something I really needed," Arthur says. "He knew I needed to grow when he signed me. I wouldn't have survived had I been signed to a regular record label. He helped me grow a lot."
Indeed, Gabriel's "don't change what you do" advice to Arthur is reflected in the album's utter lack of pretension or trendiness. "Deep down, I'm not hip. And I think that does help in art, because the less self-conscious you are, the better."
This cynicism, deficiency and penchant for timelessness was most likely ingrained in Arthur from his hometown of Akron, Ohio. There, like most of Ohio, time stopped around 1975, a fact he freely admits. "Downtown was sort of abandoned and me and my friends just took acid and ran around and listened to Bauhaus and classic rock the whole time, thinking that was the only type of music there was. Even when you go back there now, it's the same Led Zeppelin concept. It's unreal! And I don't want it to ever change, but it's outrageous."
Managing to escape the barren midwest, Arthur now calls NYC home, counts Rosanna Arquette as a friend and owns a Grammy nomination for his artwork on his 1999 Vacancy EP. In fact, Arthur's visual artistry is as important to him as the music he creates ("When I paint, I learn more about making music," he explains. "I can bring more freedom to making music because my painting is really free, it teaches me"). But it's Arthur's acknowledgment that "dreams, fears and love live" in his music that brings a special quality to Where I'm From that's overwhelmingly real.
"I'm always moved by people who allow themselves to be vulnerable in music," he says. "I wanted to do something that had human imperfection in it. I think there's a quote—I forget who said it-but [it's] 'in the future, beauty will be in imperfection.'"