Ben Arnold Taps into the Old School on “Lost Keys”

Ben Arnold.

With all of the new music that is released every day, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of new material and also the increasing advances in technology and production techniques. With all the newness that hits the airwaves and Internet, sometimes it’s refreshing to hear music that takes a dose of old school. Philadelphia-based singer Ben Arnold does just that, drawing inspiration from soul music’s yesteryear on his album Lost Keys. Arnold sings of love lost and rekindled with resilience that is supported by a substantial backing band with full-bodied musical arrangements. It’s an album that gives a nod to some of old school soul music’s best qualities, most notably the irrepressible energy created by live musicians pouring their collective hearts out as a singular, soulful entity.

Aside from Arnold’s gritty vocals and impressive arranging work, Lost Keys is driven primarily by the band’s cohesive dynamic. The recording captures the group’s live energy, sounding like the kind of family-like band one might have heard at the original Woodstock. Joining Arnold on the album is Matt Muir, Zach Djanikian, Eric Bazilian, Jay Davidson, Tony Reyes, and Jeannie Brooks. The musicians have been playing together for several years, a fact that is reflected in their tight, unified sound on Lost Keys.

The first song “Stupid Love” is an apt opening statement, as it seems to encapsulate Arnold’s heartbreak, but also his strength in spirit. While the song’s lyrics are fairly dour in tone with words like, “Love, what have it done / make me weak / make me numb / I can’t even speak,” the music is undeniably upbeat. In the song’s chorus, for example, without paying attention to the lyrics, one would have no idea the extent of his torment with the sweeping chorus even as Arnold sings, “Stupid love / I’m all messed up, don’t you know it / gets in my blood, so stupid.” The emotionally burdened words set against driving, almost cheery music is a pattern that continues throughout Lost Keys.

Most of the remaining tracks on the album follow a similar formula to “Stupid Love” with heartfelt, often emotionally wounded lyrics performed over uplifting music. One such case is “Detroit People,” which stands out from the bunch for its less personal lyrics. Arnold instead treats the song as an ode to resilience of motor city’s citizens. With a city that has seen its share of hard times, Arnold maintains belief that the people will persevere, writing, “Detroit people take it on the chin / Detroit people gonna come around again.” It may not match the rest of the album’s songs in lyrical tone, but “Detroit People” is a welcome respite from words about the ups and downs of love.

One of the tracks that perhaps best sums up the album is “It’s a Jungle Out There.” As the title implies, Arnold warns about the dangers of romance and life in general. It’s only precautionary, though, as he maintains a level of hope and unwillingness to give up despite being hurt in the past. It’s a timeless theme that matches well with his use of old school music that still works today. During a time when so many things feel new and different, Arnold’s music offers a level of comfort in its accessibility and that will never get old.

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