Calico – Ben Arnold
SCI Fidelity Records 1018
My best friend is a musician, and like me, he has an extremely open mind when it comes to new artists and music. However, each time I discover a new singer-songwriter, he has the same response: they all play the same chords over and over and sound like each other. To him, Ari Hest sounds like Gavin DeGraw, who sounds like Will Hodge, who sounds like Ingram Hill, who sound like Marc Broussard, and so on. Normally I disagree with him — I enjoy their music, and I can tell each apart with ease. Unfortunately, when it comes to Ben Arnold I'm going to have to side with my friend. The bulk of his latest album, Calico, conjures up images of John Mayer running through the halls of his high school, screaming at the top of his lungs.
Arnold's voice is nearly-identical to Mayer's. This wouldn't be so bad if Arnold didn't find himself penning tunes that are so Mayer-esque it is nearly impossible to tell the two apart. On the up side, it does mean that Arnold has a great voice, and an incredible talent when it comes to songwriting. He's been making music for over a decade, and this is definitely evident on Calico. There is nothing clumsy about it, and his maturity shines through in his lyrics. On the upbeat "Zig Zag" he sings, "Get a big bag, fill it with your past, leave it out for Monday morning."
The album has been a work in progress for some time now; during Arnold's stint as a music teacher, he tested out some of his songs on his students, masking them as guitar exercises. He also took inspiration from his students, as is apparent on his tribute of sorts to them, "Calico Kid."
The problem with Arnold is his inability to carve his own niche and find his own sound. It is clearly not a lack of talent. He has already made his voice work to his advantage, now he just needs to digress from the norm. If he strays away from pop-infused acoustic tunes, and steers himself more towards tunes like the soulful "Bluegrass," Arnold will be just fine. The world already has one John Mayer, and while he rocks, it surely doesn't need two.