Arthur Alligood – One Silver Needle

Arthur Alligood – One Silver Needle

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On One Silver Needle, veteran singer-songwriter Arthur Alligood provides a perfect example of the uphill battle that all but the elite purveyors of his genre face to craft a genuinely memorable album. Alligood is a gifted lyricist fresh off of winning the 2011 Mountain Stage New Song Contest, and he delivers ten intelligent, often poignant songs. He also has a talented cast of supporting musicians, guys who’ve worked with a who’s who from the songwriter pantheon. It should add up to recipe for success, and yet it somehow fails to leave anything more than a fleeting, lukewarm impression.

On paper, there’s not much to criticize about One Silver Needle. Alligood’s voice comes across somewhere between Tom Petty at his most laid-back and a low-key Ryan Adams, with an unfortunate touch of Chris Martin sometimes finding its way into the mix. His songs have acoustic foundations, but the band adds enough texture via organ, piano, steel guitar and even cello that it never becomes a minimalist snoozefest. On songs like opener “It Shouldn’t Be So Hard” and the album’s big rocker “Go On Back”, the songwriting and playing even combine to suggest the Wallflowers and Matthew Sweet, respectively.

Of course, Alligood and his lyrics are the stars here, and he delivers pretty consistently on that front. “We Had to Try” is an early highlight in this regard, as he nails the feeling of having tried to leave a small hometown and failed, all in the first verse. It’s almost enough to make the rest of the song redundant, until he drops the bittersweet finale about how “walking back we felt like soldiers coming home from the fight/ back to our hometown/ we couldn’t leave that town.”

Elsewhere, the title track and “Darkness to Light” provide examinations of hope in dark times, both personal and societal. “Darkness to Light” may also be the overall high point of the album, as Alligood deploys his rarely-used falsetto in the chorus to reflect the lyrics about “when the sun comes over the mountain.”

So how is it that an album with so many pieces in the right places still comes up short? There’s simply nothing here that sounds like it hasn’t been done a thousand times prior. It comes across as well-played but generic NPR-stereotype music. This is best on display when Alligood delivers a cliched chorus – hearing his non-distinct voice singing a refrain like “why’d you go honey/ why’d you honey let me go cold?” and two different ones about his heart, I can’t help recall every forgettable folk singer I’ve ever ignored at an open mic night, regardless of how professional the backing music is or clever the verses are. As for said backing music, it’s certainly professional, but bloodlessly so. It’s enough to make the songs sound nice, but rarely enough to actually elevate them.

It’s a shame that such solid song craft never manages to sound very special, but like so many similar albums, it’s all just a little too safe and polished for its own good. There’s none of the warts-and-all eccentricity of the artists who’ve managed to transcend the dull “singer-songwriter” tag over the years, leaving only a smart but forgettable set of songs.


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