ARTHUR ALEXANDER: LONELY JUST LIKE ME (1993)
1) If It's Really Got To Be This Way; 2) Go Home Girl; 3) Sally Sue Brown; 4) All The Time; 5) Lonely Just Like Me; 6) Every Day I Have To Cry; 7) In The Middle Of It All; 8) Genie In The Jug; 9) Mr. John; 10) Johnny Heartbreak; 11) There Is A Road; 12) I Believe In Miracles.
It is not quite clear what exactly drew Alexander out of bus-driving retirement: some people mention a «renewed interest in his legacy», but surely such an interest could only have very limited distribution anyway. Perhaps it took him fifteen years to understand that, by now, it was perfectly all right for people to record music the way they would like to record it without an obligation to seek mass commercial appeal. Or, more probably, it just took him fifteen years to find a record label that would want him in the first place.
The label was Nonesuch (not yet under the roof of Warner Bros.), and the album — one of the most delightful small-scale comebacks of the 1990s. Apparently, Alexander took the bus-driving business quite seriously: only half of the album is comprised of new material, written God knows when, with the other half (as befits most of the blues, jazz, and R&B comebacks from the «real old days») consisting of re-recordings of old hit material — and it is, of course, debatable whether we really need a fourth version of 'In The Middle Of It All'. But in the end, it doesn't matter at all. What matters is how classy it all sounds.
First, it is almost impossible to date these recordings to 1993. The drums have a slightly «processed» feel to them, and the electronic piano sound and synthesized strings constitute another mildly unpleasant giveaway, but, other than that, the record seems to have been made exactly the way Arthur would have it. The man drove his bus through the Eighties without noticing a single thing going around, and thank God for that — Lonely Just Like Me sounds like good old school R'n'B / country-soul. Melodies, guitars, catchy choruses, human feeling, the works.
Actually, some of the new material is terrific. 'If It's Really Got To Be This Way' is gorgeously written and sung, with some nice slide playing attenuating the pain and grace in Arthur's voice, a lost classic totally on the level of 'Anna' and 'You Better Move On'. 'Genie In The Jug' bounces, delights, and saddens all at the same time; the "doo-doodley-doo"s of 'All The Time' are unusually deeply felt for a doo-doodley-doo; 'There Is A Road' is built upon an overwhelming vocal crescendo — one that could have been performed in a much more technical manner by the likes of a Neil Diamond, but benefits far more from Arthur's trembling sincereness; and 'I Believe In Miracles' is a tender, lovingly naïve conclusion.
Moreover, I don't feel one bit of a difference between Arthur's early singing and his vocal powers on here — perhaps the voice got just a trifle deeper with age, but you'd really have to use serious acoustic equipment to prove your point. The important thing is that his simple magic has not gone anywhere: Lonely Just Like Me fully justifies its title — few people could ever sing about broken hearts with the kind of simplicity and adequacy that Alexander introduced back in the early 1960s, and, strange as it is, it still holds true in 1993.
I mean, people like Al Green came along and took the whole thing to an entirely new level of depth — making songs that mixed joy with pain directly, playing psychological torment with quasi-Shakesperian standards — but there is something to be said for holy simplicity as well, and especially for being able to move a heart without overplaying it. Most of these twelve cuts focus on that ability, making Lonely the only Arthur Alexander LP that is truly, to some extent, conceptual in its nature.
It is nothing short of a mini-miracle, either, that Alexander had just enough time to put out this sole LP before, a few months later, succumbing to a fatal heart attack that finally put him out of his loneliness. Without it, I would still be tempted to classify him as a two-hit wonder; with it, his career got a suitably humble and elegant finale that confirmed it as, well, an actual career. And it seems that the record label people understood that as well: fourteen years later, the album was re-released on CD as Lonely Just Like Me: The Final Chapter, adding several guitar-only and accapella demos recorded for the album and, more importantly, a small live promotional performance played before a well-receptive audience. They do not add much artistic or historical importance, but they do a good job of bringing out the vulnerable human side of Arthur to an even bigger extent.
A very natural thumbs up here, and a big thank you to the man for having stayed exactly the same through all these years, and also to producer Ben Vaughn who gave him a chance to show that to us before it was too late. Trust me, this is not a trifle here; this is soul food as essential as any of the man's greatest hits compilations, even if it may take a while to understand that.
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