Joseph Arthur: Coast of High Barbary
I didn’t want to let our week of special projects pass with posting something Hal Wilner was involved in. Who? you may ask. Hal Wilner is a producer who has made a career out of tribute albums and other special projects that put lesser and better known musicians in unfamiliar, and possibly uncomfortable, combinations, and get them to make amazing music that sounds like nothing they have ever done before. Wilner’s best known project was possibly the album Stay Awake, which featured a surprising mixture of artists doing Disney songs. Sun Ra’s version of Pink Elephants on Parade must be heard to be believed. One of Wilner’s more recent projects was Rogue’s Gallery, a collection of pirate songs and sea shanties. So you might expect an entire album of folk music, but not from Hal Wilner.
Joseph Arthur is known for songs that straddle the line between folk and pop. The songs are expertly crafted, and Arthur knows how to make it work. He normally surrounds himself with fine sympathetic musicians who are great at helping him realize his sound. But, for Rogue’s Gallery, Arthur showed up alone, and he was at Wilner’s mercy. The result is a version of Coast of High Barbary that sounds like some sort of mutant cabaret number. This one might have been heard in a seaside club where a hard rock band and an avante-garde jazz combo were playing, and the drinks were flowing freely. Arthur sings in a sinister baritone at the bottom of his a range, a voice I’ve never heard from him before.