From the beginning, and even on his best work, there has always been something haphazard about Joseph Arthur's recordings. He's always tried so hard to capture the heat of the moment in the studio, that he can get sloppy, thus blunting impact. The Ballad of Boogie Christ changes that. A successful crowd-funding drive netted him a big budget and he spent it getting it right. Arthur calls this a "psychedelic soul record," about seeking, finding, and losing redemption. Recorded in four different studios from New York to Minneapolis to L.A., it features a star-studded cast including Joan Wasserman, film composer Paul Cantelon, Jim Keltner, Garth Hudson, Cynthia Popper, Juliette Lewis, Ben Harper, and more. Opening track "The Currency of Love," with its piano, bass, drums, strings, and electric guitar, plays an early rock & roll vamp as doo wop choruses support a lead vocal that's urgent, yet just campy enough to sound glam. "The Saint of Impossible Causes" weaves guitars and mandolins with crunchy beats; it's a first-person expression of need and hope, sung by someone who's lost everything. Arthur plays a mean sitar to boot. The title track, a fast rock & roll waltz, is a poignant observance about Jesus walking the earth in the 21st century. A hip, soulful horn chart and a gospel chorus provided by Wasserman and Jenni Muldaur send it over the top. The are only two "psychedelic soul" tracks here. The first is the furious "Black Flowers," with Popper's bass fueling the bottom end, appended by fiery percussion and punchy horns, as phase effects rampaging arund the lead and backing chorus vocals (Muldaur and C.C. White). "It's OK to Be Young/Gone," commences as a rock anthem and contains a chorus reminiscent of the Rolling Stones' in "I'm a Fool to Cry." There are studio versions of three songs that have been part of Arthur's stage show for years. The poem "I Miss the Zoo" is a paean to addiction's simplicity; the nostalgic longing for the rush and the seeming illumination its chaos brings; it's gorgeously illustrated by acoustic guitars, piano, and organ. Likewise, "Famous Friends Along the Coast" and the skeletal "All the Old Heroes" are given moree acoustic yet empathic treatments that illustrate the crafted poetry in Arthur's lyrics. The former features a lithe slide guitar solo by Harper and the latter Keltner's intuitive rock-solid drumming. To say that The Ballad of Boogie Christ is inspired is an understatement. It was written, performed, cut, and mixed with great care, and as such delivers Arthur's creative vision with abundant emotional power.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek