Paper Arrows

Joe Goodkin

Independent release, 2019

http://www.joegoodkin.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/13/2019

“I'm kind of trying to go big by going small if that makes sense,” says Joe Goodkin of his decision earlier this decade to put his indie-rock group Paper Arrows on indefinite hiatus in favor of a solo career that strips his music down to its bare essentials—just his voice and his guitar. This approach proved itself over the course of a trio of memorable EPs (Record of Life, Record Of Loss, Record Of Love) that saw Goodkin similarly strip his songs to their essence: raw, achingly direct expressions of pain and joy, loss and love.

Paper Arrows the band released five records between 2008 and 2013, garnering substantial college radio play, and had songs featured in programs on MTV, E!, and PBS. Paper Arrows the album finds Goodkin revisiting 10 songs from this era and augmenting them with six new tunes. It’s a risky exercise, taking songs written for and recorded in a band environment and reimagining them as solo works. The issue in such situations is always the same: when you sand your songs down to their essence—just voice and guitar—there’s nowhere to hide. You can’t dodge a dodgy line with instrumental cover; if the lyrics won’t bear up under this kind of scrutiny, it will become evident very quickly. Unsurprisingly for someone capable of writing an EP as visceral and beautiful as Record Of Loss, that is not the case with Paper Arrows.

“In the end, everyone loses everyone / Our castles come undone,” sings Goodkin at the top of the album, the Paper Arrows tune “Tell The Kids,” an elegy for a family in the process of breaking apart. He follows this revisitation of the past with a sort of mission statement for his present-day approach in “Every Light Is A Fire,” starting with those familiar adolescent rock and roll dreams: “I remember thinking of / How we’d be as big as love / When we raised our voices to the sky / The kids would hang on every word / We were young and we were sure / So much time would never pass us by.” As the years pass, reality takes hold and he realizes he’s come full circle, back to just himself, his guitar, and that same sense of urgency: “We’ve come this far / Just to get to the start / Every light is a fire / Every fire is a chance / Every light is as fire / Don’t let it pass.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The spare arrangements—in each case, just Goodkin’s voice and one of the two guitars he uses here, a 1962 Gibson acoustic and a Mule Resonator—limit the colors Goodkin is able to paint with over this 16-track album, but he varies tempos and feels enough to sustain interest while putting all his chips on the strength of the lyrics. Highlights include the haunting “Things We’d Rather Lose”; the chiming “Once And For All”; the lilting, steady-flowing “One Hundred Songs”; and the melancholy, poignant “Almost Gone.” (Part of the reason the album feels both so fresh and so spare—more spare even than the Record EPs, which featured overdubbed layers of sound created by Goodkin on his guitar—is that every track consists of a single live take.)

Scattered through the rest of these tunes are a plethora of sharply-drawn, memorable lines: “Time's a box of rescued days / So cut the tape and show me what you saved” (“Lonesome Sound”); “Regret is a cage that goes on and on” (“The Counting Song”); “The streets are quiet as we walk into an empty room / That used to hold our secrets when all that I could breathe was you” (“Why We Work”); “And in this dream I let you go, the end was drawing near / I was left knee deep in the water and I was trying to catch your tears” (“Light Out”).

Paper Arrows closes with the upbeat acoustic anthem “Something Worth Fighting For,” summing up both the album and the past decade of its creator’s life: “Started this song so many times / Dreamt the refrain a hundred more / Came through doubt and pain to love / And make something worth fighting for.” And there you have it.

“Every song is a love song in my mind” declares Goodkin in “One Hundred Songs,” yet many of these songs reflect on loss, or the process of losing. Most of the older songs feel like scenes from the gradual, messy dissolution of a relationship, while the more recent songs have a more philosophical bent, an older, wiser man sifting through the rubble and drawing lessons from his experiences. The promise Paper Arrows offers for the future is that, as strong as many of the older songs are in their reimagined acoustic form, the standouts here are mostly the newer tunes. In stripping his music down to its essence, Joe Goodkin has stripped away all artifice; there’s nowhere to hide and Paper Arrows is all the more powerful a statement for its nakedness.

Rating: A-

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