Fricke's Picks: Joseph Arthur

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Joseph Arthur has Ryan Adams Syndrome: He can't stop making records. Since 2000, Arthur — an Ohio native first championed by Peter Gabriel in the mid-Nineties — has issued thirteen records of original songs in various editions and formats. He is not slowing down. A new EP, Could We Survive (Lonely Astronaut), is the first of four he is releasing this spring and summer, like an album in installments, ahead of a new full-length CD in August. Arthur has made merry with EPs before — his four volumes of Junkyard Hearts in 2002 had enough material to fill a double album — and the glistening brevity and pointed argument of the six songs here show that he knows when less is more than enough. With Arthur's plaintive voice flanked by robust, acoustic strumming and rattling percussion, "Morning Cup" recalls the stark bittersweetness of Big Star's Third and Loudon Wainwright's self-titled 1970 debut. In the EP's title song, a dream-state ballad with cowboy-choir harmonies, Arthur sounds like the early-Seventies John Lennon surrounded by the Jordanaires. "Rages of Babylon" reeks of current events, opening the record with the high price of front-line duty — Phil Ochs would have approved and sung along — while "Walk Away" is Arthur up to his neck in Side Two of Abbey Road, wrapped in curtains of Mellotron and Beatles-esque sighs. The next EP in this series, Crazy Rain, comes out in April, which still gives you plenty of time to revisit this one, over and over.