The debut full-length from Philadelphia singer/songwriter Adam Arcuragi is the sonic cousin to the melancholic folk of Nick Drake and current sepia-tinged fellow travelers like Mark Kozelek, Damien Jurado, acoustic Chris Mills, and Dolorean. Like the latter's debut, Not Exotic, it's predominantly gentle, minor key acoustics and literate narratives that veil a vaguely religious undertow. On Arcuragi's softer cuts, he employs a whisper uncannily like Kozelek's; when the songs increase tempo and the finger-picking turns to hearty strumming, Arcuragi's voice develops an adenoidal pinch much like early Jurado. What often distinguish these songs are the accents: disc opener "All the Bells" features sumptuous vibraphone chimes from Michael Spinka; lap steel from Ryan McClaughlin and graceful cello from Eve Miller (Rachel's) frame the country shuffle "Delicate"; and Wurlitzer (Charlie Hall, Windsor for the Derby) highlights "Little Yellow Boat." Elsewhere, singing saw and E-Bowed guitars flesh out the compositions. But Arcuragi's songs are strong enough to stand on their own merits; over half of them surpass five minutes, yet none feel too long. "Part of the Sky" and "The Dog Is Dead, Amen" are transcendent, recalling the sparse glory of Drake's Pink Moon, just Arcuragi's wraith-like vocals and intricate acoustic finger-picking, while "Broken Throat" soars like the best Mills on the strength of enthusiastic handclaps and backing harmonies. The accompanying press lists Arcuragi as a prize-winning poet, which partially explains Rimbaud's cameo in "1981" or the arcane "odalisque" that appears in "Part of the Sky." But the intimate narratives about transitory childhood memories, young love lost, and mortality virtually preclude pretension. There is unbridled joy inherent in even the saddest of these songs, and unforgettable images in almost every verse. When Arcuragi sings, "I'd taut myself like the high E-string/So that when you pluck, I sing" ("The Christmas Song"), "I will shake the boughs 'til you come down/Sending the birds into the air like black fire against the sun" ("Broken Throat"), or "Singing through my teeth/And smiling as I go" ("1981"), his elation is contagious. An impressive debut from a promising talent.
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AllMusic Review by John Schacht