Peter Gabriel discovered Joseph Arthur in the mid-90’s, and since then he has remained beneath the mainstream radar, while being generally well received by critics. Redemptions Son, released in 2002, was his most commercially successful album, but did not manage to launch Arthur into the social consciousness. It just goes to show, since he received a Grammy nomination for his EP Vacancy, but for the packaging rather than the music it contained.
Arthur’s latest release is Vagabond Skies, an EP designed as a preview for his upcoming full-length album, Temporary People. It is his third release since starting his own Lonely Astronaut label, and much more polished than his last. A meandering album, Let’s Just Be showed the worst-case scenario of what happens when an artist is given unfettered reign over a work. It sounded more like a recording of raw studio work, than an actual album.
Vagabond Skies remains rooted in the folk-country style Arthur has cultivated over the past decade. “Slow Me Down,” starts off with a hazy, dream-like feel that continues through the rest of the six tracks. The vocal harmonies that build over the acoustic and slide guitars are what make this the best song of the bunch.
After the opener things become darker and slow down until it hits “She Paints Me in Gold.” It is the longest song on the album, and seems longer than the rest put together. It has the sound of an overwrought seventies ballad that needs to be sprayed with the hose. The prolonged guitar solo over ooh-ing and ahh-ing becomes excruciating after a while.
However, the next song, “Second Sight,” brings a welcome change in tempo and style. This tune makes heavy use of synthesizer and drum machine combined with violin. It is somehow upbeat, but a little terrifying.
Overall, Vagabond Skies is a promising if imperfect EP. It gets so slow that it tends to drag, but filled in with the right songs it could work.