"I'm calling the night 'Ben Arnold with the 48 Hour Orchestra' because I can only afford to do two shows with them," Arnold says with a chuckle, referring to an unusually big band (for him) that includes lead guitarist Eric Bazilian, percussionist Fred Berman, the Jay Davidson Horns, and the Sarah Larsen Strings.
Lost Keys is either a bold anomaly in Arnold's 23-year-old catalog or a grand redirection, as only 2010's Simplify benefits as much from rich, honeyed orchestration as does this new album.
"Doing Lost Keys was like writing a theater piece with certain instrumentation in mind while penning each song," Arnold says of Keys' full, late '60s/early 70's Funk Brothers/Wrecking Crew sound, and its production. "I spent countless hours working and reworking every word, tempo, every piano, horn and string part, the backing vocals, even my own vocal delivery."
Not so much a pastiche as it is Arnold's version of an Apollo Theater variety show, songs such as "Stupid Love" or "Cannonball" touch on Ray Charles' penchant for horn blasts and run-on sentences, while "Don't Wanna Lose Ya" has a Brill Building feel, and the French horn-y "When Love Fades Away" could be a Gamble and Huff Sound of Philadelphia outtake. Throughout the new album, Arnold seems to eschew his past folksy singing style for something more sensual.
"I've always had a clear affinity for soul music and a bluesier take on singing," Arnold says. "I think I've been looking for the right songs to express that part of my voice for a long time."
Lost Keys is a far cry from Arnold's rough, folkier albums with their emotionally sensitive lyrics. It's also different than what Arnold does when he sits in with local bands such as US Rails or the agit-prop Pistol for Ringo.
"Every other record is a different party," says Arnold, noting that 2013's poppy Circle 'Round the Sun and 2004's Calico were more like casual get-togethers with friends, with zero pre-production - "a lot of great artistic spirit and booze." Other Arnold albums such as 1999's In Case I'm Gone Tomorrow and 2008's Solo are sparer still, while heavy on the creaky, personal rumination.
"I think in many of my prior releases, I was speaking from, or talking about, matters of the heart very often in what might have been a too serious or too emotional tone," Arnold observes coolly of the singer-songwriter tag. "I got sick of hearing myself whine. I think I've lost a lot of that here for Lost Keys."