New Jersey Stage

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

CD REVIEW: Ben Arnold – "Simplify" (3 ½ Stars)

Ben Arnold's latest solo album, "Simplify," reminds me of what you might have experienced during an early concert by Billy Joel when he was still experimenting with one musical style after another.  Arnold weaves from New Orleans-based rock and roll to smoky piano-bar ballads to upbeat pop numbers with ease.  The result is a thoroughly enjoyable and extremely catchy record.

Arnold has released several records on his own as well as records with the bands 4 Way Street and U.S. Rails.  In my opinion, "Simplify" makes a far better use of Arnold's raspy delivery than his previous records.  His voice is a truly unique instrument and has the ability to transform songs.  In many ways, this record is like an East Coast version of Dr. John coming to grips with middle age.  Take the title track for example:

"Don't need so many possessions
My money's saved in a jar
I live in a constant state of recession
So I can sleep under the stars
Gotta simplify"


There are a lot of really great songs on this record.  Some of my favorites include "Love Don't Lie", "Breakfast for Dinner", "Slow Learner", and "O' Holy Night."  Throughout the record you get great melodies with simple lyrics that pack a lot of punch.

"I'm a slow learner
I feel like a beginner
I thought I was a winner
Well, I didn't know the game"

--Slow Learner

Ben even has the courage to cover John Lennon's classic "Watching The Wheels" in a slower, more dramatic way.  His version somehow becomes equally inspirational and sad because it reminds us that Lennon is gone.  It's almost more of an ode to Lennon than a cover, and provides the perfect ending to the disc.

If you're a fan of Ben Arnold from his work on 4 Way Street or U.S. Rails, you will probably enjoy this record but the songs are very different from his work with those bands.  It's far more of a piano-bar/Dr. John-influenced record.  The style really allows his lyrics to take hold and his vocals to take center stage. 

"Side by side, we'll look around
What I've lost and what I've found
If only I can hear the sound
Your footsteps in the night"

--O' Holy Night