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Ben Arnold's On His Own Again

By Gary Wien

When bands break up, it's kind of like watching an episode of Divorce Court. Some band members go one way, others go another way. In the case of 4 Way Street, Ben Arnold clearly won the prize settlement. And the result is the recently released CD entitled Calico.

Ben Arnold has been a popular singer-songwriter in Philadelphia for over a decade. His arrival on the national scene came in 1995 with the release of the critically praised, Almost Speechless disc on Ruffhouse/Columbia. Although the reviews were good, Ben soon found himself back as an independent artist, which is where he stayed until 4 Way Street was born.

The band 4 Way Street was comprised of four independent artists in Arnold, Jim Boggia, Joseph Parsons, and Scott Bricklin. Matt Muir on drums was the unsung fifth member of the band. Separately the four had built up solid followings throughout the years, but collectively they managed to rise to a level comparable to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - not only the model for 4 Way Street but the inspiration behind the band's name.

Music fans in cities like Baltimore, New York, Boston, and Asbury Park instanty fell in love with 4 Way Street and the band's debut, Pretzel Park (Sanctuary). Unfortunately, that wasn't the case elsewhere.

"I wish that we would have gotten as much support from other places," said Ben Arnold. "We just didn't get as much support as we needed to keep this thing afloat."

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Public radio stations like WBJB 90.5 The Night were huge supporters of the band, but radio as a whole never got on according to Arnold. "A lot of people didn't understand that project because that's not the way the music business works. People didn't understant the the project was four guys that actually did their own thing and all got together to make a record. It's a good story."

After giving it a go as a band for over three years, the band members decided to go back to their solo work. They held a final weekend bash of shows in August at The Point in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. This is the place where the band technically got its start and the place which seemed perfect for its ending as well.

Few bands ever get the chance to write their ending the way 4 Way Street did. There were two shows on each day and all four shows were sold out.

"The general warmth and the vibe in the room was fantastic!" said Arnold. "It was somewhat of a lovefest, as well it should be. We were all really psyched by the response."

In the seemingly ironic way the music business works, it took four talented indie artists to band together to bolster their own solo careers. In addition to Arnold's deal with Sci Fidelity, Jim Boggia signed a deal with bluhammock, a new label based in New York City and Joseph Parsons continues to record and tour around the world.

As for Scott Bricklin... he most likely is still writing and recording but his focus right now is being a member of the Ben Arnold Band. Scott and Matt Muir both were part of Ben's band before 4 Way Street and they're both still vital members of the band. Even though it contains three of the five members of 4 Way Street, the music is clearly Ben's own.

"Every road has a bend
A beginning and an end
A little ding, a little dent
A better day is up ahead
Don't be afraid, just let it all in
Gotta do it again

You gotta zig zag
Have yourself a laugh
Someone's gonna let the sun in"
-- Zig Zag

"Zig Zag" kicks off the record and is also the first single. In a way, it kind of sums up the last few years of Ben's career. There's been some zigs, some zags, some laughs, and now it looks like things might be getting a little brighter.

"I actually wrote the songs a couple of years ago," explained Arnold. "The record wasn't really meant to be a career move or a planned recording of a record. It was more about wanting to make some music and record with some friends. Some friends of ours had a studio out in Los Angeles and Scott and I along with some of the other guys went out and started recording.

"The intent was really to exercise all of our different minds a little bit and not so much to make a record, but it evolved into something that I thought would be another indie for myself. It ended up being a really cool project all around. The overall general feeling of the whole thing was that maybe it deserved a little bit more."

Arnold gave the record to a couple of people who passed it on to a few labels. Sure enough, the interest was there. Then came the question of whether he wanted the pressures and demands of a major label or the ability to do things on his own as an indie.

While the choice might be easy for some, Arnold had enjoyed lots of control while creating his solo records and that kind of power is hard to hand over to somebody else.

"I was the card carrying indie artist for a while," he said. "I was really into doing things my way, but you hit a ceiling at a certain point where you can only do so much. Having a label - even a small label - is enormously helpful in getting out nationally. I'm getting heard by a lot more people than I ever would have been able to reach if I had done it myself."

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This is Ben's fifth solo record and first since 1999's In Case I'm Gone Tomorrow.

Fans of 4 Way Street will undoubtedly take to this record, but it should appeal to a wider audience as well. For as great as 4 Way Street was, there are a lot of people that simply aren't into harmonies as much - as least in a rock and roll perspective. Calico finds the music of Ben Arnold stripped down to fit his own voice. And it's a voice that deserves to be heard.

Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at gary@newjerseystage.com.

originally published: 10/01/2004



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