In the nearly fifteen years or so since his
debut under the tutelage of Peter Gabriel and his Real World Records imprint,
Joseph Arthur has demonstrated a prolific prowess that’s garnered him critical
acclaim that’s resulted in only shadow awareness among the masses. Born in Ohio but now based in Brooklyn,
Arthur’s proven himself one of modern music’s more imaginative iconoclasts, an
artist whose sumptuous arrangements and sensuous set-ups ensure that each
effort more is entrancing than the one before. Arthur’s always possessed the
power to seduce his listeners, one reason he was able to release four EPs in
the space of four months without wearing out his welcome. His seductive soundscapes
possess a seductive allure, proof positive that Gabriel’s mentoring still
retains an unshakeable influence on his efforts.
Graduation Ceremony is Arthur’s most
fully realized work to date, an absorbing album that’s beautiful, beguiling and
chock full of riveting melodies that find him at the peak of his proficiency.
It’s hard not to be enticed; like his side project, Fistful of Mercy — a
like-minded trio that also includes Dhani Harrison and Ben Harper — the songs
are often eerie yet accessible and genuinely beautiful beyond description.
That’s readily apparent from the get-go with the spectral sweep of “Out on a
Limb” and later as well, with the sparkle and shine that illuminates “Someone
to Love” and the bittersweet break-up song “Gypsy Faded.” The dramatic “Almost Blue” is equally
inspired, and when Arthur tugs on the heartstrings -sample “Horses” and “Face
in the Crowd” to soak up his sentiments – the results are nothing less than
breathtaking. He conveys love’s nuances in a way that seems so unlikely fashion
but still so revealing. “When I cheat on you, you’re all I see,” he confesses
on the dramatic dirge “Over the Sun.” “I hope you know I love you as much as I
need to be free.”
Like all commencements, The Graduation Ceremony offers an ideal place to begin, especially
for anyone encountering Arthur’s music for the first time. It’s rare to find
music so mesmerizing.
DOWNLOAD: “Almost Blue,” “Horses,” “Face in the Crowd” LEE