Finally, there's an album where getting religion and getting pissed off aren't mutually exclusive. Songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and onetime Peter Gabriel discovery Joseph Arthur has made a treatise on faith and salvation that gives his demons their equal time with Redemption's Son. Rarely proselytizing, Arthur seems angry and confused that he's had to fall to find salvation, as if someone's twisting his arm to say Uncle Jesus ("I've got religion and I don't need your permission to pray for you").
The album's title offers hope for a rebirth, but its cover depicts a winged creature that looks more like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly. In songs like "Favorite Girl" and "Dear Lord," he vacillates between being a doubter and a believer -- in all cases, the Almighty is always a no-show. Is Arthur really looking for God or is it his mother or a girl he lost in his memory banks? This album's beauty lies in its absolute confusion -- anyone who's ever enjoyed a George Jones album where every other song is about drinking or the family Bible will recognize how powerful a repetitive contradiction can be. Just when you think he's painted himself into a hopeless dirge like "Termites," where the little vermin are making shavings out of his wooden heart, Arthur lightens up and sequences two of the poppiest songs this side of the La's right after it. The uplifting "Embrace" and "In the Night" don't even acknowledge darkness, as if Arthur can see God in perfectly formed pop songs and Lucifer in the long rambling ones.
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With Redemption's Son, you can just hear how Arthur becomes a guitar hero who never hits the Wailing Wall for ideas. Mostly a collection of acoustic numbers, it's the treated electric six-strings that shimmer, ooze and clang out rhythms that leave the lasting impression. So do the album's potential hits like "Evidence," where Arthur seems to be asking the Big Sky for favors, forgiveness and answers in the same prayer: "What have I done/I don't even know what I've done/You can have evidence that I've been bad." Redemption's Son is evidence that, soul snapshots to the contrary, Joseph Arthur is a very good son indeed. -- Serene Dominic