Did you catch the Pitchfork review of the new Arbouretum disc a few days ago? I can’t recall the last time I felt so disheartened by a piece of criticism that completely missed the point. In fact, I’m surprised some higher up didn’t spike the review and reassign it. Arbouretum’s music isn’t for everyone, but the Baltimore quartet deserves better than lazy commentary and off-base comparisons to the likes of Foghat.
How the reviewer could listen to The Gathering and hear echoes of “Slow Ride” and “Fool for the City” is beyond me. Sounds like he should spend less time with his Rock Band controller and more time with the CD at hand.
Even more disturbing is how he condemns the group—and especially singer Dave Heumann—for “undimmed, aching sincerity.” He chides Heumann for “stiffness” and singing “brutal” lines like: "I was a highwayman/Along the coach roads I did ride" with “a straight face.” Wow. Willie Nelson might take exception to that, since he sang those same “brutal” lines in a 1980s version of the tune, which also included his “straight-faced” friends Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson.
Heumann actually wrests the song from those legends with a singular, world-weary performance that’s the indie rock equivalent of Jeff Bridges one-upping John Wayne. He also makes the song, which is a meditation on reincarnation, the centerpiece of an album that deals obliquely with myth and archetype.
But our reviewer doesn’t get into any of this. He, instead, lays out a vision of Arbouretum as desert rockers, citing Queens of the Stone Age as the epitome of such a group and quoting what he considers their “perfect mantra.”
That mantra is… “I wish we could get away/ Drink wine and screw.”
Now, that’s brutal.
When he sums up by claiming that Arbouretum’s sincerity and music are “an egregious mismatch,” it’s hard not to feel that the egregious mismatch was pairing this writer with this particular CD.