Singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur, an Akron native, has released 14 albums under his own name and 11 official EPs. He’s also been involved with several side projects such as Fistful of Mercy, a group that featured Ben Harper and Dhani Harrison.
Since this year marks the 15th anniversary of Arthur’s studio album Redemption’s Son
, he decided he wanted to do something to honor the occasion.
He’ll play the album in its entirety, something he’s never done before, when he performs on June 29 at Music Box Supper Club
Real World Records, the imprint run by Brit rocker Peter Gabriel, has just reissued the original album (with its original artwork) along with nine bonus tracks, all of which have been previously unreleased. The anniversary edition will be available on 180-gram double LP, double CD and digitally. It will be the first time the album has been available on vinyl.
In a phone call from his Brooklyn home, Arthur talks about each track on the album.
I think this was the first album where I started writing albums from the perspective of a character in a story. I did that later with The Ballad of Boogie Christ
and The Family
. The title is so close to Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” it might as well be called “Blowing in the Wind.” I was aware of that and decided to call it “Redemption’s Son” regardless of that. Starting it with the song might be a challenging equation because of the heavily Christian overtones even though I was thinking of the character. There would have been easier openers. At the time, the label wanted me to start the album with “Favorite Girl,” which is an interesting choice.
“Honey and the Moon”
That was just about a relationship I was in. I was young and in love and couldn’t commit myself at that point. It’s about that kind of heartbreak. It came from a genuine place. That was real. I think it resonated with people because I remember how much that was resonating in my own life.
“You Could Be in Jail”
That’s me singing the backing vocal track. I love this song. That was one of my favorites then and now. Nobody ever talks about it. I never played it live. I remember writing it based on this article I read about how cults work and pivoting that to larger relationships in general. You have to be careful.
“I Would Rather Hide”
That’s Pat Sansone from Wilco playing the wicked guitar on that song. I met Pat and drummer G. Wiz when Roger Moutenot was producing. Pat and G. Wiz have been two of my best friends since then. Pat’s musical contributions on the album are powerful. Pat had this influence on this musical level that I hadn’t allowed people in before. With Pat, we were brothers from another mother but he’s such an accomplished musician. I’m a natural musician and I didn’t go to school. I do everything on an instinctual level. Pat is very schooled. He’s a ringer.
It’s like the first-ever Bon Iver song. Did I just say that? I’m not dissing Bon Iver or claiming anything. Culturally, it is falsetto acoustic and has a funky beat. It does have that sound. That song was Peter Gabriel’s favorite. He always made sure I would include that song and play it live.
I’m trying to think about when I wrote that. That’s one where Pat and G. Wiz are huge on. That’s one of the reasons why it sounds like it does. I can’t quite remember what the inspiration was. I’m born in September, so that’s part of the inspiration. It’s a break up sort of thing.
“Nation of Slaves”
The lyrics of that resonate with where we are now. The lyrics of that are now. That’s what I feel with this record. If it came out yesterday, I think it would still sound forward thinking. It’s still pushing. As far as a singer-songwriter record, I don’t think there’s a new one that’s as modern sounding as this one. I can’t believe this is 15-year album. I remember consciously trying to push the singer-songwriter landscape forward with songs like this. I feel like I’ve always tried to do that and I’m still trying to do that.
I find myself having fun sentences like this pop into my mind, “Apparently, I was in the habit of making masterpieces back in the day.” Unlike back then, the cat’s out of the bag that musicians and artists don’t have a cushy life as it was once thought. I don’t think everyone understands that, especially outside of the big leagues. That affords us the ability to congratulate ourselves when it’s appropriate and celebrate it. Everything happens from enthusiasm.
“Buy a Bag”
That was initially when I started the project. The bonus songs were really good. The record company wanted to make “Ghost” a single. I got into the bonus tracks and fell in love with them was chastising myself for leaving songs off. Initially when I put it on, and “Buy on a Bag” came on, I was like “Really? ‘Buy a Bag’ over [the bonus track] ‘Downtown’?” Now that I’m inside the record, I don’t feel that way. I think it’s important when it comes. The party has to keep going. In order to have the possibility of going from point A to point B, you have to have some dynamics. It’s about the sleazier side of life. It can’t just be “Dear Lord, forgive us for what we’ve done.” You have to show what we’re being forgiven for.
I think I was inspired by Yo La Tengo. I worked with Roger, who they worked with. I wanted a long instrumentally kind of song and those guys do that well. They do that quite well. I was angling for something like that. That’s an alternate tuning song. In re-learning the album, I had to figure out how to play it.
It’s about a lot. It has that whole slow outro — “in the darkness, you are naked/in the darkness, you are near.” It’s a predatory sort of song.
As a songwriter you write tons of songs and some of them get gold stars by them. It’s hard to understand why at the time. That one got picked by Real World. I hadn’t even planned on putting it on the record. They they never insisted but they strongly recommended I put it on the record. I’ve grown to have an appreciation for that song. I don’t know why I wanted to leave that one off. I resonate a love for Jesus and I don’t know where it come from. It’s just there. I won’t let Bill Maher talk me out of it.
“You Are the Dark”
A lot of it for me is based on the production. If I loved the production, that went a long way. I loved the harmony bass and the groove on it. It has a good vibe to it.
“In the Night”
The funny thing is that there was a journalist in the UK for Q or Mojo, and I remember doing an interview, and that was his favorite. He said he couldn’t believe I wrote it. I thought of it as this throwaway rocker but an energy track. That’s the reason I was including it. It’s an energy track to get us to the end. Now, I do appreciate it. It’s a Beatles-y thing.
It’s a very Hendrix-y guitar tone. I remember writing that about my friend having a breakdown. That was directly out of someone else’s life.
“You’ve Been Loved”
It definitely feels like the credits are rolling. It’s interesting because I’ve been obsessed with the new Kendrick Lamar album. Kendrick Lamar, his new album, which is so good, that’s his third album. That’s his Redemption’s Son
. He’s in that place I was 15 years ago. Not that I was on the level of fame. I’m not equating that. But in the artistic journey that was something that registered to me. From this point moving forward, it’s cool to look back. There are certain ways I’ve left behind artistically. If something is easy, you don’t necessarily value it as much as the things you’ve worked for. But they’re still important. That’s my takeaway from learning all this stuff. It’s broadening my approach for how I’ll proceed from this point. It’s not like I’ll regress, but it broadens the whole spectrum.
Joseph Arthur, Allison Pierce, 8 p.m. Thursday, June 29, Music Box Supper Club, 1148 Main Ave., 216-242-1250. Tickets: $22 ADV, $28 DOS, musicboxcle.com.