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Music Review: Adam Arcuragi – I Am Become Joy

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The album cover declares "The Lupine Chorale Society under the direction of Adam Arcuragi accompanying himself on guitar with voice present to you with song and singing I am Become Joy." That willfully anachronistic (and ungrammatical) description perfectly sets up the mood of the album: nostalgic, wistful, and painstakingly produced. I Am Become Joy, the second album by singer/songwriter/playwright/poet Adam Arcuragi, follows three years after his untitled debut. Arcuragi is a Southerner by way of Pennsylvania, and his Southern twang is still evident in his voice, the songs he writes, and the instrumentation he uses.

The Lupine Chorale Society in the title is a brotherhood of like-minded musicians from all over the country that Adam has played and recorded with. Most of the songs were recorded live, and the tracks feel warm and organic because of it. There is a tendency in singer-songwriters towards isolation and self-indulgence, and the camaraderie between Adam and his fellow musicians is the secret ingredient of the album. Or one of the secret ingredients: the production is the star here, outshining even Adam himself. All of the songs are lovingly constructed and recorded, and the resulting sound is intimate and timeless.

The album opens with "She Comes to Me," which mixes folk, gospel, and country. It is lushly produced, with pedal steel, trumpets, and acoustic guitars mixing with Arcuragi's tender and lightly drawled voice and a chorus of background singers. There is a sadness and joy to the song, reinforced by the lyrics. The strongest tracks on I Am Become Joy follow the template of "She Comes To Me," mixing a variety of voices, instruments, and styles. The combination of the production, songwriting, and Arcuragi's voice are reminiscent of Andrew Bird, another singer/songwriter who has one foot in the past and one in the present day.

"People & Private Music," which chugs along like a barnyard jam session, exemplifies Arcuragi's lyrical approach. "Let the skinny kids sing one more song," he sings. "We're gonna send them back where they come from/and sing hallelujah without raising the lids/so sinking eyes don't turn to shaking fists." The songs don't necessarily create a narrative, but rather offer up a series of interesting images and word pairings. Taken literally they might be gibberish, but they work wonderfully as lyrics, and further reinforce the nostalgic and slightly bittersweet mood set by the music.

Not all of the songs reach the sublime highs of "People & Private Music" or "She Comes to Me." Sometimes he misses that mark, settling on competently played but not totally inspired alt-country, and the middle of the album drags due to a number of slower songs. It's always beautiful, and "The Guns That Bring The Morning Home" more than makes up for duller songs like "Go With Them." Like a more countrified Andrew Bird or a more controlled Jeff Magnum, Adam makes folk music that is respectful of its roots and yet still innovative and invigorating. I Am Become Joy is worth seeking out, and Adam Arcuragi is clearly an artist to watch.

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About Patrick Taylor