Though the past might be ripe with black and white, newsreel sentimentality and quasi romantic images of the last honest fight, more recent accounts of World War II tell a different tale…one painted in the graphic full-color, hell on scorched earth, strokes it really was. To this, add the penned perspective of Paul Arbogast. An unknown soldier until these last few months, the profusely personal depictions of the European front, with all the untold burdens of sadness, frustration, and the worst kind of homesick blues it inflicted upon those pressed between the war’s iron vice, has recently been unearthed, courtesy of the grandson Paul never knew…though you may know Matt Arbogast as the force behind Chicago’s The Gunshy.
Greased and grizzled, plump with the war itself, the seventeen tracks that make up Matt’s fourth album, There Is No Love In This War (Latest Flame), sprout from an identical number of letters sent from his grandfather back home to his sweetheart Julia, between May 1943 and October 1945. These handwritten interpretations – which sound as if they should have the dust blown off, and kissed with the fine fit of a scratchy record needle – set many a harrowing tales to a more traditional sounding set of songs than Gunshy fans might be used to. “August 13, 1943”/Eddie Was A Good Friend Of Mine” tells of the here today, gone tomorrow friendships Paul encountered while in Europe…this particular one with a man sadly “found with a bullet in his mouth”. It is suicide folk, set to Kara Eubanks’ weeping violin and a quivering songwriter damn near choking on his own words. It’s also one of the most heartbreaking songs to ever grace a Gunshy album.
And so goes Arbogast, sparing little detail, in this, his soldier’s salute to his grandfather. There are furious frustrations on the front; The Gunshy’s “Masters of War”, outlining the deadpan doubt of those “armchair advisors, they pretend to know exactly what’s in store (“September 5th, 1944/The Armchair Advisors”). “September 6th, 1945/’Til My Belly Hangs Over My Belt”, with its’ sparsely paired guitar, violin, and voice, is so reserved, the possibility of such an uncertain daydream ever occurring sounds remote. Most powerfully, there are those life and death moments where Paul found himself on both sides of the rifle’s cross hairs. “July 3, 1944/I Shot a Man” is a panicked romp through the rationale of taking life. Singing, “If the idea alone was enough for him and we’re only here because of them, please may they all soon be dead”, Matt sorts out his grandfather’s reasons and motivations…though Paul still needs help pulling the trigger. “Sometimes it’s better to pretend it’s the first day of deer season and the barrels staring back at us are just their markings on the trees. I won’t feed my family if I let them go, if the animal doesn’t fall to its’ knees.” Sadly, Matt also offers the breathless “June 1, 1944/Instruments of Modern Man”…the day his grandfather felt a “crimson stream run down his cheek” (Paul would die only a few years after the war ended due to complications with shrapnel).
Throughout the album, war’s deplorable conditions on the mind and body are made emphatically clear. But war is perhaps at its’ cruelest when it denies the heart of what it wants most of all. In these particular stories, all Paul really wants is Matt’s grandmother, Julia. Somewhat ironically titled, parts of There Is No Love In This War play like the sharpest writ love letter you’ve ever had the privilege to stumble across. Bursting with warmth, gratitude, and anticipation, poetic lines like “They can’t prescribe this kind of pill in any hospital. When the day is done or it’s just begun and I let my eyes fall shut I see you clearly in the front of me and I’ve never felt their injuries. I’ve never cursed a thousand Nazis” (“June 11, 1944/Pretty in the Red and White Dress”) offer tribute to a real life love that never bowed to the impossible odds of the day. They also serve a more rejuvenating purpose, for fighter and writer a like. For Paul, these letters represent what was at stake in his battles…his life, his gal, and his ring (“December 18th, 1943)”. Is their anything greater worth fighting for? For Matt, these dated words are some of the most profound subject matter the hardened and battle weary songwriter has ever coughed up. - David Pitz