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Big City Secrets

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Album Review

Joseph Arthur refers to his music as "someone struggling to heal over experimental folk-rock." His major-label career began after he received an unexpected answering machine message from Peter Gabriel offering him a contract on Gabriel's Real World label. Arthur's music employs a wide range of musical influences, adorning his songs with instruments as diverse as hurdy gurdy, corn horn, Venetian xylophone, caxixi, birimbau and harmonic missles. Experimental folk-rock is an apt label for such eclectic instrumentation. As for "struggling to heal," Arthur's strategy appears to be to heal through catharsis. His lyrics are populated with angsty lines like "You're easy for me to bleed on," "Put my daddy on Prozac, I don't think I want him back" and "You became a spider as I fed you the blood from my nose." All that "healing" can get to be a bit overbearing, especially when expressed in Arthur's tortured vocals. In his most restrained moments, his voice resembles David Rice or Jeffrey Gaines, but at his most extreme he's a dead ringer for Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins. The songwriting is at its best when Arthur uses his sharp ear for melody, as on "Mikel K," "Big City Secret," and the harmonica-driven "Mercedes," which features background vocals from Brian Eno and Gabriel himself. The album's weaker offerings ("Desert," "Porcupine") have a tendency to drone tunelessly. But even then the weakness of the melody is somewhat mitigated by the inventiveness of the arrangements, and it's easy to see what attracted Gabriel to this promising artist.

Biography

Born: 28 September 1971 in Akron, OH

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Ohio native Joseph Arthur was discovered by Peter Gabriel, who signed the folk-rock songwriter to Real World Records in the mid-'90s. Arthur's debut, Big City Secrets, was released in 1997 and went fairly unnoticed, despite an eclectic, brooding sound influenced by the likes of Leonard Cohen, Joe Henry, and the late Jeff Buckley. Gabriel influenced Arthur's music, too, exposing his songwriting to a global palette, roping him into Gabriel's annual WOMAD shows, and giving him a roster of fellow labelmates...
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Big City Secrets, Joseph Arthur
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