Recorded in a brief but powerful 12-day spurt in Lexington, Kentucky, the third full-length release from Atlanta-born and Philly-dwelling troubadour Adam Arcuragi, Like a Fire That Consumes All Before It, has a lot going for it: Arcuragi’s soulful voice and an ability to blend elements of church harmonies with primal drumming and hoarse but still mightily barbaric yawps. There’s a sound that harkens back to the analog era and the best work of Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen, along with the sense that he’s singing about something deep, even if you can’t quite put your finger on it.
Trouble is, you can’t quite put your finger on it. Arcuragi often howls the lyrics forth in a nearly incomprehensible fashion, smothering the meaning in those unbridled shouts and woeful woops, so that the better side of his voice, the soulful touches, as displayed on the early moments of “So You Think This Was Easy”, say, or “Last Long Rain” get forgotten in the sweltering storm of raw emotion. After some time, you can’t really connect with the material, and thus it flies by like a wash of intriguing but ultimately unimportant noise. By the time things settle down and the music and performances become a little more focused somewhere around the album’s midway point, it’s too late.
Arcuragi’s too good an artist to dismiss outright –– there are strong and memorable pieces that emerge, such as “The Birds Will Follow”, during which he pauses to sing with clarity and conviction on a track that calls to mind the best work of his contemporaries in Fleet Foxes. The fine and gentle guitar figures of “Port Song” buoy a weary and weather-beaten vocal performance during which Arcuragi sounds like a man who may or may not expire from sadness before the end of each line –– it’s deeply moving and a textbook example of how to connect with the material and the audience, the very thing that’s absent in other places on the album.
Yet a track such as “The Well”, which wants to be a Band-cum-Creedence Clearwater Revival hymn with a dark vibe that might make Screamin’ Jay Hawkins proud, seems just out of the emotional reach of the performers –– they can conceive of the right moves, get the right mood, but they just haven’t lived the material yet (or lived long enough with it to make it really work). But the following piece, “I Called”, features another ace vocal performance and a vibe that is never less than on target.
Therein lies the legacy of this album, perhaps: an artist who’s capable of conceiving great work but not quite in a place where he can fully execute it with all his might. In this way, he’s not unique — record store shelves and digital collections are filled with plenty of this lot. What makes Arcuragi different from the others is that you want him to better than he is; you want him to succeed because, so far, he has seemed so damned good at what he does.