Hard-working songwriter pens 'best record of the year'

"I once saw an interview with Jerry Seinfeld, and he said he thought 'writer's block' was a myth; people just get lazy," says singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur. "I think there's a lot of truth to that."

For his latest album, "Come to Where I'm From" (Real World), Arthur had to select 12 songs from a pile of more than 40 that had been "relatively easy" to write.

Prolific. That's one way to describe Arthur. Well, at least when he's at home rummaging through chord progressions on his guitar, that is, because he's hardly prolific in the public's consciousness - even if Entertainment Weekly magazine voted "Come To Where I'm From" as the best record of 2000.

"This is my third record," the Ohio-born singer said during a phone interview from his New York apartment. "I think my music's quite accessible, so I don't really see why it doesn't reach a wider audience."

Peter Gabriel certainly likes Arthur's brand of lo-fi, urban-folk music that weaves acoustic and electric guitars in between sparse drum loops and Arthur's own multilayered backing vocals (visit this article on www.csmonitor.com to hear sound clips).

In 1995, Arthur received quite a shock when he found a message on his answering machine from Gabriel, who, unbeknownst to Arthur, had been given a copy of Arthur's demo tape through a chain of mutual friends.

Gabriel has since recorded his own version of "In the Sun." Arthur's own version appears on his most recent CD, his third for Gabriel's Real World label, which mainly features world-music artists. Significantly, Arthur is the only American artist on Real World's roster.

"I feel really good about being on the label; there's something so artistic about the whole concept," he says. And the discounts on fellow label artists like Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn aren't bad either, he jokes.

During our conversation, the singer sounds a little groggy. It turns out he's not used to being up this early.

It's 3:30 in the afternoon.

"I do love walking in the city, especially at night when it's really empty. I do love the buildings and the veins of the city."

When he isn't recording music, he takes to an easel and paintbrushes once the sun dips. The often-disturbing paintings can perhaps be described as an abstract blend of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" with traditional aboriginal paintings - often using bright neon colors.

"Painting has always been my hobby," Arthur says, adding that he's glad to showcase his brushstrokes on his album covers - one of which earned him a Grammy nomination for best packaging.

Another outlet for his artwork is a virtual online gallery at a devoted fan's website: www.lanset.com/kthalken.

Also on the site are journals from his tours. "It became my pet project ... it really helped me on the road because it gave me a focus. It's a strange thing because you're really busy on the road, but there's also a lot of downtime."

In concert, Arthur is his own one-man band. "I use these things called 'jamans.' I can loop my acoustic guitar and make a drum sort of sound," he explains. "I can loop my voice and just using those and effects kind of builds up a solo show that has a dynamic."

In the future, though, Arthur plans to put together a band for a new record, which he says will have greater focus on machines, rhythms, and drums.

"I definitely see stylistic progressions," he says of the more than 75 new songs he's written since his last album.

"It's a bit more optimistic, but not in a corny way, hopefully."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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