With the first twang of sugar-sweet gravel in Josh Arbour’s voice on Corinne, the first track on his self-titled debut EP, Arbour announces his arrival as a bold new artistic voice. Clearly steeped in all his favorite vintage musical elements, the Los Angeles artist has created a statement piece with his first release, a way of firmly stamping his vision and voice on the contemporary folk scene. Thrillingly combining elements of gospel, blues and roots rock with sprinkles of luscious strings, haunting classical vocals, and evocative lyrics, Arbour has a ton of tricks up his sleeve and he gives everything he’s got to these four songs.
Corinne sets the tone for this musical roller coaster, with its groovy, driving roots-rock beat. It’s a toe-tapping thrill ride of a introduction. The Foreground picks up the torch with an emotional cello intro, segueing into a seriously sensual guitar-driven ballad. The innate sweetness of Arbour’s voice is on display here, fully exposed and vulnerable. His songwriting style is free-form and rambling, lead by the poetic storytelling of the lyrics, favoring emotional urgency over hooks and conventional structure. In each song he creates and inhabits a richly layered world, developed by symphonic variations on the simple melodic and chordal structure. It’s a fascinating approach that achieves a fully captivating demand for attention; Arbour does not take his creative process lightly, and his commitment draws the listener in completely.
Satisfied Soul kicks up the sex appeal even higher, with sultry sax and Arbour stretching the entire range of his voice, from pure falsetto to growling baritone in a staggering display of cinematic creative vision. Arbour seems to have two modes as an artist: self-styled musical storytelling auteur, and bleeding-heart poet. For my money, I like him best when he pares down the bells and whistles and bares his soul, as he does on the final track War In May which perfectly captures the unmarred sweetness of young love. I’m a sucker for a good instrumental section, and the final track delivers one with a perfectly poignant cello and searingly satisfying electric guitar solo.
Alongside a host of insanely talented collaborators, Arbour has achieved a bold, dynamic debut. The complexity of his ambition implies that he has just begun to flex his creative muscles and spread his wings, and from this high of a starting point, he’s got plenty of room to soar.
Josh Arbour will be available on iTunes and Spotify from August 5th. He’s also slated to perform in September at the KAABOO festival in Del Mar, CA on a lineup with Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, Jackson Browne, Muse and many others.