Although Joseph Arthur embodies a romantic impression of artistic restlessness, he isn’t without grounded moments. His second album, 2000’s Come To Where I’m From, proved he could do country-rock. His latest, Let’s Just Be, works within the “limitations” of recording with his touring band, the Lonely Astronauts.
Coming out little more than half a year after Nuclear Daydream and Arthur’s inaugural road trip with the Astronauts, Let’s Just Be perhaps inevitably and perhaps deliberately has a ramshackle sensibility. Fumbled beginnings, hastily truncated endings, and unsound electrical hums abound.
As do influences. “Precious One” takes the C&W slide-guitar languor of the Rolling Stones for another spin; “Take Me Home” continues the postmodern tumbleweed drift of Beck’s Sea Change; “Cocaine Feet” cranks up the proud degradation of the Stooges; and “Cockteeze” tries a strangely feasible imitation of Brian Johnson-era AC/DC.
With the deft support of guitarist Kraig Jarret Johnson (Golden Smog) and drummer Greg Wieczorek (Twilight Singers), Arthur also tries Wilco-style pretension with “Lonely Astronaut”. This 20-minute spaced oddity cycles from somnolent ballad to screeching rave-up to Teutonic experiment before returning again to somnolent ballad and one last acoustic-guitar arpeggio. It’s fascinating almost in spite of itself.
But it’s not the centerpiece of Let’s Just Be, because the album doesn’t have a center. Instead, it has fragments that Arthur and his band shuffle into a semblance of order. Even with his feet planted amid the roots of familiar music, he can’t stop moving.