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Ben Arthur - singer songwriter success in waiting Ben Arthur

When he sings ruefully in "Mary Ann," one of the songs on his Bardic Records debut, Edible Darling, "The older I get, the more I realize/The best I can hope for his compromise," Ben Arthur is only half-serious. After all, the young veteran hasn't toiled at his craft for more than a decade to give in without a fight for his beliefs.

The singer-songwriter has been through a litany of near-misses after being heavily courted by several major record labels through the years.

For his Bardic Records bow (after two releases on his own Chicken Butter label), Arthur made sure he did things his way, with the help of engineer Mike Shipley (Aerosmith, India.Arie, Shania Twain, Def Leppard).

"I never doubted that playing music is what I wanted to do," says the Peoria, IL, native, who laughs, "Which begs the question of whether this will play in Peoria." Arthur was raised in the college town of Harrisonburg, VA, where his father was a theater professor and his stepmom an art historian at James Madison University, and his mother a local attorney. "But it's the work that sustains you. That's what I live for. Even if I have to make money waiting tables."

If you get the idea Ben Arthur is not your everyday folk-rock-country-blues singer-songwriter, you're catching on.

If you get the idea Ben Arthur is not your everyday folk-rock-country-blues singer-songwriter, you're catching on.

"There's nothing in my work that doesn't smack of some pretty grim, difficult stuff," he says matter-of-factly. "Most of my material comes from a place where the most grim and difficult sentiments lurk under a catchy melody."

Indeed, Arthur's delicate melodies remain key to his appeal, though he incorporates 808s, DJ-scratching and drum machines on several of the songs, with cellos and strings underlining others. There are bits and pieces of John Lennon's cheeky fatalism, Beck's homespun experiments, the earnestness of Chris Carrabba, Pete Yorn's seductive psychedelia, the exoticism of Joseph Arthur (no relation).

"I tend to bounce all over the place," he agrees. "Which I may have to curtail, now that I'm playing with the big boys. That's what you get when you're independent. I could do a country song or a hip-hop song because nobody really cared. I try to add as much as possible, to create a densely textured sound."

Arthur first picked up a guitar at age 15 and immediately began writing songs. At the beginning, he listened to Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC and Pet Shop Boys, none of whom you can hear in his music. He went on to be influenced in his songwriting, so he insists, by the Lyle Lovett and Michelle Shocked, which isn't exactly apparent, either. In Charlottesville, where he attended the University of Virginia, he developed a local following, opening for Tori Amos, Shawn Colvin, Bruce Hornsby and playing with fellow townsman Dave Matthews. In fact, Matthews collaborators Boyd Tinsley and Tim Reynolds played on Arthur's first album, 1997's Curses and Rapture, whose name comes from a Dostoevsky novel.

Ben Arthur's music is alluring pop, but if you take a closer look, it's not quite as pretty a picture, "Pick up the pieces scattered resentments/From an old explosion/Grudges and barbs/All just mummery and gypsy fingers." Gypsyfingers is also the name of his second independently released effort, which came out last year.

That kind of intellectual approach is to be expected from the son of college professors, who counts Russian novelists Nabokov's Lolita and American author Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men among his favorite reads.

"I'm the type of person who sets goals, then ends up being disappointed in myself for not achieving them," says Arthur about his ambitions. "The reality is, you can't feel shitty about yourself, even if your friends are all doctors and lawyers. If you take a job in the arts, you have to make some life choices."

Those choices are etched into every song on Edible Darling, where Arthur spares no one least of all himself.

More information:

Ben Arthur website

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© 2004 Ben Arthur/Bardic Records. All rights reserved.

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