McArthur’s last grandparent passed away earlier this year, and “her celebration of life had been postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic,” he tells American Songwriter. The Americana music man, unable to properly say goodbye, memorializes her legacy through his new song “Oh, Sedona.”
Michael McArthur // Oh, Sedona (July 3) / How to Fall in Love (August 14)
Songwriting has always been a form of therapy for Michael McArthur. Over the past decade, the Florida native has filled a handful of EPs with his own mix of raw soul and lushly layered folk, working with producers like David Bianco (Tom Petty, Lucinda Williams) and Greg Wells (Adele, One Republic) along the way. His 2019 album Ever Green, Ever Rain, recorded with Grammy-winning producer Ryan Freeland and inspired by McArthur’s long period of isolation and self-repair, was released to critical acclaim, receiving accolades from Billboard, PopMatters, Folk Radio UK, Americana Highways, Atwood Magazine, Ditty TV and more.
2020 sees McArthur return with a pair of EPs, Oh, Sedona and How to Fall In Love, to be released consecutively this summer, featuring new tracks as well as acoustic renditions of favorites from Ever Green, Ever Rain. While the album was recorded with a full band, McArthur often tours as a solo act and wanted to make recordings that reflect how these songs take shape in a live setting. He explains it this way:
“Oh, the life of a solo artist can be at times inherently solitary. One’s search for a deeper understanding to better inform the art often requires hours and days in thought. Working and reworking. Assembling and dismantling. Firing and watering. The dynamics of that change though when you have no choice, but to be alone.”
“Since we are unable to come together in concert, I’ve formed and shaped what has been a lifeline for me, and I’m tossing it out to the world, for those who need a hand. Performed in the way that I wrote them, there’s something about the uncovering of a song that invites you to reach down a little deeper. To listen with both ears. To be at ease.”
“That’s the reason for these one-take live performances. With complete humanity intact, it’s essential to the integrity of the songs and their purpose, that they be revealed in their most fundamental form. The only way to relate is through honesty.”
The first of the two new EPs, Oh, Sedona features a stripped-bare yet warming cover of Prince’s classic “Purple Rain” as well as a new original song in the title track — a deeply personal tale of remembrance in loss.
“You can’t know the importance of a funeral, of that collective remembering, the final farewell, until you’ve attended one, or until you’re unable to. My last grandparent passed away earlier this year — Grandma — and her celebration of life has been postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic. I spent the summers visiting her and Granddad in Arizona. ‘Oh, Sedona’ was written in remembrance of her contribution to my life. So that I may not forget.”
On the second EP, How to Fall in Love, the title track is once again a new song added to the collection, packaged alongside more revisited tracks from Ever Green, Ever Rain.
“It is possible the greatest love story of all is one that fails,” McArthur ruminates. “Even in spite of your best effort and truest intentions. Only to find your roads eventually lace again, but this time it’s right, the tapestry is ornate and complete. ‘How to Fall in Love’ is a reminder that it takes a lifetime.”
A decade before Ever Green, Ever Rain‘s release, McArthur sold his share of the family-owned bistro he’d launched with his brother at 21 years old. Music had always been his true calling, ever since he began listening to records by James Taylor, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson in his childhood home. Free to pursue a career outside of the restaurant business, he began performing his original songs, quickly graduating from regional gigs in Florida to a string of cross-country tours.
Often, he’d perform alone, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar. Other times, he’d team up with an ensemble as large as the Imperial Symphony Orchestra, whose rich, robust sound accompanied him during a one-off performance in his hometown of Lakeland in 2016. Then, after eight years of creativity and consistent shows, he slammed on the brakes.
McArthur was tired. He was introspective. Most importantly, he was in danger of losing the woman who’d been his partner and muse for years. Taking a break from the road allowed him to rebuild both his marriage and himself. It also sparked the musician’s most creative period to date, with McArthur channeling his own self-reflection into 50 new songs.
After filling up a three-ring binder with song ideas, McArthur turned to producer Ryan Freeland, whose work included Ray Lamontagne’s atmospheric, award-winning God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise and Bonnie Raitt’s Americana hit Slipstream. Working together, the pair recorded Ever Green, Ever Rain at United Recording Studios in Los Angeles. There, in the same room where Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley once recorded their own hits, McArthur sang his new songs alongside a live band, capturing 13 tracks in just four days.
In keeping with McArthur’s entrepreneurial spirit, Ever Green, Ever Rain was the first release on the songwriter’s own label, Dark River Recoirds. Running a business is familiar to McArthur, whose old restaurant remains a thriving fixture of downtown Lakeland, yet much has changed since the day he hung up his apron and hit the road as a solo artist. He’s taken punches and delivered blows of his own. He’s learned, listened, lost, and loved.