CD Review of Vagabond Skies by Joseph Arthur
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Joseph Arthur:
Vagabond Skies

Reviewed by Michael Fortes


en years ago, conventional wisdom would have qualified Joseph Arthur as crazy. Even five years ago it would have been the case. But then, any artist who’s not tied to a major label is free to test the waters of what’s “crazy” and what’s “sane” when it comes to getting music into the hands of listeners. And even by Prince standards, Joseph Arthur has some balls.

Vagabond Skies is the third release this year by Peter Gabriel’s sadly under-recognized mid ‘90s discovery. Say what? Yes, it’s true – the man started his year of market saturation in March with an EP titled Could We Survive. It was less of a question, and more of a challenge. He followed it in April with Crazy Rain, which – intentional or not – is an apt description of the volume of tuneage this man is bestowing upon us. And see, the man’s so fast, we can barely keep up with him. Vagabond Skies, the disc which prompted this review and all its attendant research, was released on June 10, while Arthur’s fourth EP of the year, Foreign Girls, already hit the marketplace by the time Vagabond Skies found its way to this reviewer’s mailbox. Would you believe that a full-length album, Temporary People, is due September 16?

To top it off, Arthur is also a prolific visual artist (with his own recently-opened gallery in Brooklyn, cleverly called the Museum of Modern Arthur). So naturally, the cover art direction is purely his own, and it’s in perfect sync with the music. Nightfall in the city, in a place removed from the crowds, perfectly describes the mood of the six carefully crafted songs that make up Vagabond Skies. The arrangements bear the hallmarks of a visual artist’s perspective. The use of acoustic guitars against electronic beats, layering some falsetto underneath Arthur’s gently raspy baritone, the terrifying keyboards in “Second Sight” for that horror movie vibe – it all adds to the mood, evoking dark scenery and rugged edges (beats) that are smoothed out by the setting sun (keyboards).

The two-and-a-half minute guitar solo that takes “She Paints Me Gold” to its last warbly chorus is the centerpiece of the EP – easily its most sublime moment, and also arriving at the literal midpoint of the whole program. Book-ended by the gentle acoustic opener “Slow Me Down,” with its wind-like sound effects and the sorrowful declaration “I wish you could come with me to the spaceship in my mind,” and the mournful closer “It’s Too Late,” the artist’s touch strikes again in an act of musical and thematic symmetry.

For an EP, Vagabond Skies comes off like it was more thought-out than most full-length albums. Either that or Joseph Arthur is one hell of a natural artist who knows how to get the most mileage out of a little night music without really trying. Whichever explanation you choose, Vagabond Skies is already old news, but well worth replaying.

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