If you ever wondered what Lou Reed would sound like done by Neil Diamond, this is as close as you'll ever get to it. Joseph Arthur got the call to do a tribute to Reed when Vanguard A&R man Bill Bentley read Arthur's eulogy for Reed in American Songwriter. Playing piano, bass and acoustic guitar and performing all the vocals, Arthur has restructured the songs in such a way that is seems you've never heard them before. It's not so much a makeover as it is a re-imagining of Reed classics.
Arthur's vocals really bring out the poetry in Reed's work. His smooth, mellifluous delivery makes re-listening a discovery process that will embed the songs even deeper into fans' hearts and turn make the songs more accessible to new listeners.
He was not only a fan, but a friend who cherishes the memory of Reed taking him out for ice cream to celebrate Arthur's signing to Peter Gabriel's Real World Label in '96.
Ironically, Arthur's latest, The Ballad of Boogie Christ, sounds more like Reed than Reed himself, especially the title cut, which finds Arthur wondering WWBCD, theorizing that he would have loved hip hop, metal and soul.
He probably would have appreciated Arthur's tribute as well. A mellow folk/punk treatment makes the songs glide along smoothly. “Walk On The Wild Side” has new life as a smooth, late night cabaret offering, the piano and acoustic guitar accompaniment rounding off all the rough edges.
It's very strange to hear “Heroin” sounding like added verses to “Holly Holy,” a voice you'd swear was Neil Diamond's talking about feeling like a man when he puts that spike in his vein. What makes it even more surreal is that it has such an anthemic feel that you want to stand up and wave your arms around and cheer until the lyrics start to seep in.
Arthur's covered some of Reed's biggies, but one wonders why “Sweet Jane” or “Perfect Day” weren't included and “Coney Island Baby,” “Sword of Damocles” and “Stephanie Says” made the cut.
Maybe next time. And if this offering gets around, there will be a next time. With a translation this good, this interpreter should have no problem finding more work.