There seems to be a lot going on in folk and jazz musician Arthur Fowler’s life, not the least of which is the release of his debut album, What’s Keeping Me Going. With a career that began in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and brought him to Tokyo with lots of twists and turns along the way, Fowler still manages to project a feeling of slow country life and Americana on his new album. In addition to releasing his album this year, Fowler also plays in a number of bands and tours extensively in both Japan and the U.S. Talk about having a lot of banjos in the air.
Arthur Fowler studied at the Wisconsin Music Observatory in the 80s, working with some of folk rock’s most talented students and professors such as Kelley Johnson and Jack Gassel. Prior to his more structured musical training, Fowler had been a big fan of and tried to emulate the likes of Jimi Hendrix Neil Young and played in blues jam bands in Milwaukee. He then moved to Spain and played all over the Mediterranean, supporting jazz vocalist Eva Denia.
Japan may seem an unlikely place to settle as a folk and jazz musician, but Arthur Fowler found a thriving folk scene in Tokyo. When not working on his solo music he plays with a number of bands in both the US and Japan, including AJA, a folk and rock fusion band. Many of his Japan-based friends contributed to What’s Keeping Me Going, including AJA bandmate Alan Gleason.
What’s Keeping Me Going opens with the title track, which is a classic folk song. Fowler’s voice will remind listeners of Cat Stevens or James Taylor, though his lyrical prowess may not always be on par with these two legends. He also has a mastery of folk and jazz guitar, which is probably largely what has allowed him to feature on so many jazz albums. What’s Keeping Me Going is a highlight on the new album, as it is well-composed and has an interesting Caribbean-style backing track which works well with Fowler’s smooth and perfectly pitched voice.
Following the title track, Please Try and Love the Music are upbeat tracks with more Caribbean flavor. Please Try has a bit of a blues tinge, in part because of the blues harmonica, played by Matthew Skoller. These tracks are a bit forgettable, unfortunately, but another highlight of the album comes in the middle with Hu (pronounced you). This song has wonderful dueling guitars and features some of Fowler’s finest playing.
Two classic rock covers feature on the album, as Fowler cites many stars of this genre as influences. He very nearly pulls off his cover of Neil Young’s For the Turnstiles, but his very pleasant voice does not quite connote the edge intrinsic in the original, so it ends up sounding a bit like a Kid’s Bop version of a very heavy song. The second cover is of the Jimi Hendrix song Room Full of Mirrors, and it is an even more unfortunate choice. It is clear that Fowler has a real passion for Hendrix and sometimes translating classic songs into a different genre works, but in this case it makes for one of the strangest sounding songs on the What’s Keeping Me Going.
Artists can often be a bit overly ambitious on a first album, especially if it has been many years in the making. The desire to communicate all of the musician’s loves, passions and influences can create a sort of crowded feeling. That seems to be what has happened with Arthur Fowler’s What’s Keeping Me Going in a few instances. The album has a great overall tone, however, and Fowler’s talent and skill still shine through the few blunders. The album closes with an all-guitar track which more than makes up for some of the odd choices, and as a folk album this is a very good first effort from Fowler. Given his skill and level of professionalism, Fowler’s next solo work will more than likely have all the kinks ironed out and give audiences a more comprehensive taste of the blues, jazz and folk he holds so dear. Arthur Fowler will be touring in the US and Japan throughout 2015, and his new album is available to stream and buy on his website, the link for which is listed below.
Review by Layla Klamt