Having dedicated most of 2010 to his supergroup side project, Fistful of Mercy, Joseph Arthur returns to his solo career with The Graduation Ceremony. “There’s nothing to do in the Midwest but dream,” he sings on the album, which dresses up Arthur’s heartland pop songs with sweeping, atmospheric arrangements. Strings, pianos, synths, and female harmonies all make frequent appearances, adding some swirls of color to what might otherwise be a stark break-up album. Arthur is definitely hurting, and the song titles alone provide enough evidence of a relationship gone awry: “Out on a Limb,” “Almost Blue,” “Face in the Crowd,” “Love Never Asks You to Lie.” To cheer himself up, he gets a little help from his friends, leading a three-person band through these 12 songs and enlisting friends like Madi Diaz and Liz Phair to sing backup. The result is an album that doesn’t sound as sad as its content. Instead, we’re treated to the sort of elegantly weary, vaguely melancholic music that Ed Harcourt makes, with wistful melodies sung in either a smoky, folksy croon or a high falsetto register. Heartbreak makes for some some long, lonely nights. But it also makes for solid albums, provided you've got the right person in the driver's seat.
AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey