Redemption’s Son is a consistently inspired, occasionally frazzled, and often startlingly beautiful, it’s the kind of record you can build a slow, sustainable love affair with, its rich textures, vulnerability and acute, poetic lyrics guaranteed to slacken jaws and raise goose bumps. Reassuringly, it was made by a man with a self-effacing sense of humour and a complete lack of pretension.
Recorded in various locations over a two year period, the album was mixed by Tchad Blake (Peter Gabriel, Sheryl Crow, Pearl Jam, Bonnie Raitt). Joseph plays most of the instruments himself, but a gold star is also due to Pat Sansone who contributed bass, piano and mellotron parts. Elsewhere, cellist Nadia Lanman appears on Favourite Girl. “Tchad rediscovered it among a bunch of my old recordings,” says Joseph.
In truth it’s pretty hard to get Joseph Arthur to talk about who and what the songs on Redemption’s Son are about, perhaps because he feels he’s already laid himself bare in their lyrics. “I think vulnerability in art is a really attractive thing,” he told Rolling Stone in 2000, “…but it still feels risky to me.” His new record, he says, is “honest” and “real”. “It would be good if people liked the words and thought it was soulful,” he adds.
The album is now being re-released to celebrate it’s 15th Anniversary. Originally released in 2002 this is the first time the album has been available on vinyl – 180-gram double LP, with digital download code. LP contains the original album track listing but digital download comes with 9 previously unreleased songs which now form a ‘lost album’ which Arthur has named Morning Star.
Available on vinyl for the first time since its original release – 180g black vinyl, with digital download card.Buy (Real World) Buy (Amazon)
01 Redemption’s Son
02 Honey And The Moon
03 You Could Be In Jail
04 I Would Rather Hide
01 Innocent World
02 September Baby
03 Nation Of Slaves
01 Buy A Bag
02 The Termite Song
01 Favorite Girl
02 You Are The Dark
03 In The Night
04 Blue Lips
05 You’ve Been Loved
Morning Star (Digital Download Album)
03 Pictures of a Life
04 Forgive Your Heart
05 Afraid to Feel
06 Cracking Heart
07 Secret Ghost
08 Cinderella Under Glass
09 Morning Star
All songs written by Joseph Arthur, published by Real World Music Ltd
Produced by Joseph Arthur except ‘Buy A Bag’, ‘Termite Song’, ‘Favorite Girl’ co-produced by Ben Findlay
Additional production by Pat Sansone, Mike Napolitano, Tchad Blake
Mixed by Tchad Blake at Real World Studios assisted by Claire Lewis and Marco Migliari, except ‘Favorite Girl’ mixed by Ben Findlay
Recorded at Ernest Hemingway Studios, Mike Napolitano Studios, The Magic Shop, Sear Sound, and Real World Studios.
A Real World Design
Photographs + design by Zachary James Larner
Sculptures by Joseph Arthur
Listening to Redemption’s Son, you’ll soon recognise themes of dislocation, loss and lost innocence. You should note too, however, that album-closer You’ve Been Loved was written “for various friends and for myself in reaction to self-pity. It’s like you have been loved, so what more do you want?” says Joseph emphatically. He doesn’t want your sympathy, just your ears.
All kinds of exquisite details add subtle colour to the album. “Touring Come To Where I’m From I think I developed as a musician a lot,” says Joseph “…and that live sampling thing I do (in gigs) is part of this record, too, and hopefully that adds personality and risk. I didn’t try and make an art record, but I didn’t bend to the commercial realm, either.”
Those song lyrics deserve a closer look. Joseph’s great at re-jigging simple truths (see I Would Rather Hide’s “I know we’re all insane when there’s no-one else around”), great with simile (witness Honey And The Moon’s “we got too much time to kill / like pigeons on my window sill / we hang around”) and a dab-hand with black humour (see Favourite Girl’s “I’ve been so happy being unhappy with you”). Unlike the vast majority of his contemporaries, he understands that a truly great song is a deft marriage of music and words, not a slew of cat/bat rhymes clumsily nailed to a tune. Joseph hones his lyrics, and it shows.
The way that he’s using and arranging his voice has taken another quantum leap, too. Witness the near-choral backing vocals on the album’s title track, the gorgeous falsetto on Innocent World, his deft-phrasing on the timeless-sounding Blue Lips, and the relaxed, Lennon circa # 9 Dream-type vocal hook which introduces September Baby.
One of the most direct songs on the album, perhaps, is You Are The Dark. “The lyrics about tidying up the place and lying down in the clean emptiness are just directly out of my life,” says Joseph. “The song’s about that person you used to look at to make you feel good, and how when you look at them now they make you feel horrible. It’s that simple.”
Quizzed about the Jimi Hendrix-like instrumental passage in Blue Lips, meanwhile, Joseph’s happy to hold his hands up: “Yeah, Hendrix has been a huge influence on me, and a huge influence on the music. The psychedelic nature of it comes from him, I think.” That love of Hendrix (and Nirvana and Crazy Horse) is also evident in the music of Holding The Void, the “power trio” which Joseph has formed with Pat Sansone and drummer Rene Lopez.
Joseph Arthur was born in Akron, Ohio, became a songwriting obsessive in Atlanta, Georgia, and later moved to New York, where he still lives. Circa 1996 he was still a guitar salesman working for the minimum wage at Clark’s Music in Atlanta. Soon, however, Joseph would become the first rock artist to sign to Peter Gabriel’s Real World label, releasing Big City Secrets in 1996, the seven-song EP Vacancy in 1999, and then the aforementioned Come To Where I’m From which was voted ‘Number One Album of the Year 2000’ by Entertainment Weekly and Newsday and ‘Top 10 Album of the Year’ by several critics including the New York Times and CMJ. Vacancy’s vibrant sleeve design – a collaborative effort by Joseph and his friend Zachary Larner – was Grammy nominated for ‘Best Recording Package’.
In 2000, journalist Stephen Cox quizzed Joseph about his painting, discovering that his favourite artists include William De Kooning, Franz Kline and Basquiat. “Are you exercising demons (in your own painting)?” asked Cox. “Probably to some degree,” replied Joseph. “If you’re not dulling yourself or anaesthetising yourself you have a lot of raw energy, and if you’re young and your demons are still flabby, then there is a lot of working out to do.”
Like Big City Secrets, like Vacancy, like Come To Where I’m From, Redemption’s Son features sleeve-art by Joseph himself. This time, though, the emphasis is on sculpture. “There’s this florist’s shop near my apartment,” he explains, “and they have the flowers delivered in these big plastic vessels in all kinds of weird shapes. I use them as a canvas and put stuff all over them: toy soldiers, dolls, plastic flies and trash I’ve found in the street. There’re photos of the finished sculptures on the cover.”
(a collection of Redemption’s Son era songs that have been selectively preserved in a time capsule waiting for the perfect time.)
I’m listening to old tracks that my longtime label is gonna release with an old album. 15 years to be exact. An anniversary edition. Strange when you’re life contains things like “anniversary editions.” People are always trying to pit musicians (and artists in general but especially musicians) against their former selves. It seems like they wait around to say “you’ve lost it.” And they say you’ve lost it betweeen every release. You learn to ignore it. But you also start forming a grudge (unconsciously) against your former self. I almost never listen to old tracks. Once they’re out, they’re out, but in putting together this reissue I’m faced with a strange kind of reckoning. It’s rewarding in an almost ghostly way. So strange it hedges towards perverse. If your work is emotionally open and revealing and most of all if it digs deep, it’s bizarre to be confronted with such a vivid emotional landscapes of your former self. (Like a picture of your ghost.) The closest anyone could relate it to is it’s like looking at old photos. But imagine if the old photos were living vehicles of your imagination and emotion. (A multidimensional embodiment of your old issues which like rivers of sound beat up against the damn of right now. Those roads led you to here and where are you? What would you say to that guy?) And/or things you’ve invested years into. Ephemeral things. Strange right? Moving. Embarrassing. Bewildering.
I’ve heard Dylan talk about not being the same guy he was when he was young and on fire. I can relate listening back and it’s interesting as well to see the roads you’ve taken since then. Some right turns. Some wrong ones. But even in the wrong ones you keep pushing.
Listening to the download. (The label sent it as a single file.) I’m battling my phone in the rain and it keeps cutting right at the end of track four and I go back to the beginning again. Ghost. A three four waltz that sounds like one of the best songs I’ve written. Or is that nostalgia creeping in? How did it find and stay on the cutting room floor? The same with Downtown and the same again with Pictures of a Life and Forgive your Heart. I can’t say beyond that cause as I’ve said, the connection keeps failing. Walking along the water in Brooklyn from Red Hook to dumbo. I’ve lived here ever since then and some years before. Forgive Your Heart now plays and I can see the freedom tower past the grey fog and water in this hazy day. My old self urging my older self to forgive my heart all the way. Weirdly and tragically we started mixing Redemption’s Son on 9/11. And the song we were mixing was Forgive Your Heart. I loved the off beat quality of it. And I believed it held a magic that lived beyond the simplicity of its lyrics and melody. Delusional? With art you never know. That’s the gamble of it. (Odd that my choice of songs to start mixing this record was left off. But I think it was a case of caring too much about it and over analyzing it at the wrong moment.) Tchad started mixing it and we were just getting ready to spend three weeks or so mixing. Just getting the day going. I believe Tchad was close by the time Peter ran into The Big Room and said “Joe a plane just hit the World Trade Center in New York.” Shocked “what?!” Yeah it’s on the news now”. We all jetted into the lounge area in the neighboring building of the old stone mill Real World has built itself on. I remember watching TV as the second plane hit and it became clear we were under attack. The anti depressants I was taking at the time stopped working and I started flipping out. I spent the rest of the day trying and failing to call NYC. And just about everyone I knew in America. The anti depressants were a new thing. I had always battled with depression but I had become suicidal and knew I needed help. I took them for about six months and stopped. I remember feeling numb and getting chubby. And then I just stopped taking them and things weren’t as bad. I bring that up cause I always remember that period as the period I was medicated. Not heavily, but it seems worth mentioning for whatever that means and whatever that’s worth. Context I guess. The limits creative work can push you towards. It can make you sane as it drives you crazy.
Pictures of a Life was my favorite for at least a year before recording the tracks on Redemption’s Son. I remember writing it on the endless touring I did in support of Come to Where I’m From. The second verse about my friend, who’s a brother, is all about Graham who was my front of house sound guy. Road manager. Best friend. Brother. FrEnemy. (At times but rarely.. we were on the road forever and then some. Stress is a factor) we did things like three month long residency tours of Ireland. We lived out there playing sometimes for ten or twenty people. And sometimes quite a few more.
Downtown was in my mind the single and its space on the cutting room floor got found, I think now, due to over exposure (my own personal) and the feeling that because it has a big chorus maybe it’s cheesy? But listening now I’m thrilled with it. And applaud how it’s going for it even as I chastise myself for not letting it fly. (Times were different then. It wasn’t so much about people trying to make hits as much as people trying to make art at least that’s how I thought about it.) In defense of the stranger that was me, song creativity was exploding in all directions at that time. And not only did I put out four eps from this batch, which became ‘Junkyard Hearts.’ Even with these short sighted omissions Redemption’s Son was, in length, a double album. I was way way way pushing beyond good taste in terms of how much I was releasing. Wasn’t playing it cool but I didn’t care. I was dedicated to the songs. To the creativity. All was in service to that. Just wish I didn’t leave the four best songs off the record. I’m kidding I think. (I suppose an uplifting way of viewing it and I’m sure on some level true, is that maybe these tracks were cut so that they could have their moment now, and for me personally they resonate right now.)
Ghost seems to be daring me to return to its form of simplicity. I suppose it’s a Nick Drake influence I hear. Pink moon remains a staple. I can remember my motive then, at least subconsciously, I was looking for something profound in something simple. That was the trick. It was really thought about as much as it was felt for. Looking back I just remember the investment.
Unlike Dylan I feel like I still am that guy. Or just becoming who he really was if that makes sense. I hear ‘Pictures of a Life’ and I can hear direct relations to things I’m concerned with now. The road’s been long, wayward and topsy turvy. If the song hasn’t exactly remained the same, the road has. Looking for the diamond in the muck. It’s strange these emotional voyages we package up called songs. I love music for that. For its ability to transcend time. To tie everything together. To at least give the illusion of some sort of immortality. Like a hologram. Or getting beamed to various times in your history like Star Trek only the deep space is your emotions and the black holes are your memories. Music functions that way. Transporting us all over the place. Reminding us of where we were when, and who we might yet still become or who might become again.
Joseph Arthur, April 5th 2017
Ps. Since I wrote these notes more tracks were discovered. Ones I felt even more strongly about yet again. We decided to turn them into their own album called ‘Morning Star’ rather than a collection of this that and the other thing. It’s a great feeling when the past burps up a gift. Things forgotten and submerged by the vortex of time which reveals its illusions thru a process such as this. First listens of old things are a lot like taking the wrapping paper off a gift. That excited smile comes over you (hopefully) and it’s kinda wonderful. But soon you get transported back to the time these things were new and then they become fresh elements to work with. No more a gift but a responsibility. Like if you got a dog for Christmas. What they say about a work of art being never finished but abandoned is accurate. And I learned here that you can essentially un-abandon them. We took these old things and we set out to make something current. Deadlines were being missed. and mastering decisions were getting made and essentially we were back in the ring. Bridging the gap between then and now. Until it was all just right now again.
“’Redemption’s Son exhibits the sure sign of a classic album. The best songs are not nervously loaded at the front. Some of the real gems – the slow, creepy Permission, the unbearably beautiful Favorite Girl and the irresistibly poppy In The Night – emerge nearly an hour into the album.”
The Times (UK)
About the Artist
At the time, Arthur aspired to be a world-class jazz or fusion bass player in the vein of the late Jaco Pastorius. But when a demo tape of Arthur’s songs made its way to Peter Gabriel, it was the lyrics that attracted Peter, as he realized the talented songwriter was a great fit for his label Real World Records.
Within a few months Arthur was signed and Big City Secrets was recorded at Real World Studios with Marcus Dravs (Bjork, Coldplay, Mumford and Sons) producing the album, which was released in 1997. Two years later, he recorded an EP called Vacancy, followed in 2000 by Come To Where I’m From, which features his signature song, In the Sun. The track was covered by R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe and Coldplay’s Chris Martin in 2006 on a charity single to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina, having previously been recorded a decade earlier by Gabriel for a Princess Diana tribute album.
After releasing four EPs collectively called Junkyard Hearts, his third album, Redemption’s Son, came out in May 2002. Big City Secrets, Come To Where I’m From and Junkyard Hearts are now available as part of the Real World Gold series of repackaged classic reissues.
Joseph Arthur returned to Real World Records to release his double album, The Ballad of Boogie Christ in 2013, and another new album, The Family, was released by the label in 2016.
Arthur’s cover of the Louis Armstrong classic What A Wonderful World was released in early 2017 in support of American First Lady Michelle Obama’s A Place at the Table, a three-year national media campaign that aims to inspire the U.S. and its leaders to make ending hunger a national priority.Other Releases by this artist Official Website Facebook