Finally there’s an album where getting religion and getting pissed off aren’t mutually exclusive. Like the film The Apostle when Robert Duvall keeps asking God for a sign and the devil keeps intercepting the call, songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and Peter Gabriel discovery Joseph Arthur has made a treatise on faith and salvation that gives his demons their equal time. Rarely proselytizing, Arthur seems angry and confused that he’s had to fall to find salvation, as if someone’s twisting his arm to say Uncle Jesus. (“I can’t find my way without following you” and “I’ve got religion and I don’t need your permission to pray for you” are just two of the album’s many aggro-mantras.)
The record’s title offers hope for a spiritual rebirth but its cover depicts a winged creature that looks more like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly. In songs such as “Favorite Girl” and “Dear Lord,” the latter a gospel reshoot of Dylan’s “I Want You” if it were scribed by Job, he vacillates between being a doubter and a believer, but the Almighty is always a no-show. Is Arthur really looking for God — or is it his mother or a girl he lost in his memory banks and does it really make all that much difference? Not really, since this album’s beauty lies is in its absolute confusion — anyone who’s ever enjoyed a George Jones album where every other song is about drinking or the family Bible will recognize how powerful a repetitive contradiction can be. Just when you think he’s painted himself into a hopeless dirge like “Termites,” where the little vermin are making shavings of his wooden heart, Arthur remembers how to lighten up; he sequences two of the poppiest songs this side of the La’s right after it. The uplifting “Embrace” and “In the Night” don’t even acknowledge the darkness that preceded, as if Arthur can see God in perfectly formed pop songs and Lucifer in the long rambling ones.
Witnessing Arthur’s miraculous live solo shows, where he builds cathedrals of sound out of rhythmic, repeating tape loops, it’s the sound salvation and not the message that provides the cathartic punch.
Redemption’s Son is mostly a collection of acoustic numbers, but it’s the treated electric six-strings that shimmer, ooze and clang out worldbeat rhythms that leave the lasting impression. And the album has numerous potential hit singles like “Evidence,” where Arthur seems to be asking the big sky for favors, forgiveness and answers in the same prayer. Redemption’s Son is evidence that, soul snapshots to the contrary, Joseph Arthur is a very good son indeed.
E-mail Serene Dominic at firstname.lastname@example.org.