One of the apparent advantages of being friends with Peter Buck is that he seems to be down for a collaboration at a moment's notice. Robyn Hitchcock, Mark Eitzel, Kevn Kinney, Alejandro Escovedo, and Corin Tucker are among the many artists who have benefitted from being in the right place at the right time with their pal. Now, the mutual admiration society between Buck and singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur has resulted in an album of songs they wrote and recorded over the space of a few days in 2017. The material on 2018's Arthur Buck initially came together while the two were jamming at Buck's home in Mexico, and the basic tracks were recorded in a day. The spontaneity that produced the album is still audible in the final product, with the performances displaying an admirable decree of scrap and the use of percussion loops taking the place of the drummer they didn't bother to find. There's a sense of freedom and adventure in the music, and the results suggest there's something to be said for the notion of "First Thought, Best Thought." That said, while Buck was clearly an important creative partner while making Arthur Buck, the truth is this sounds less like a 50/50 collaboration than a Joseph Arthur album with Peter Buck pitching in. Which is not at all bad, of course; as usual, Arthur's lyrics are bold, clever, and incisive, his vocals are passionate and reveal just the right amount of drama, and the melodies are strong, with Buck adding an extra spoonful of melodic bounce. But while Peter Buck is certainly part of the formula, he seems to have let Arthur take the creative lead. The music hardly suffers for this, but anyone who was hoping this would be an album that puts a different musical spin on Arthur's songs, the way Buck did on his projects with Mark Eitzel (1997's West) and Alejandro Escovedo (2016's Burn Something Beautiful) might not get what they were expecting. But if Buck's aim was to help his friend make a good album, he succeeded, and Arthur Buck once again demonstrates Joseph Arthur is an unsung hero in the American singer/songwriter community.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming