Jayke Orvis – It’s All Been Said (Music Review)

It's All Been Said cover

Jayke Orvis - Its All Been Said

Was Jayke Orvis serious when he named his album It’s All Been Said? True, he sticks faithfully to country music fundamentals here, but the sum of the parts is nothing quite like I’ve heard before. He provides brilliant instrumentation, mixing a guitar, mandolin, bass and dobro into a richly layered sound that belies his trashy, stoner persona. The music owes a lot to his bluegrass background, but is often toned down and paired with somber vocals: I don’t think there’s a “downer country” movement, but this album makes me want one.

The album’s flaws don’t come from the songwriting at all, but from a lack of focus. It opens with “A Recipe For Tea”, a mix of sampled phone calls and TV horror hosts that sounds like it should be kicking off a witch.house album instead of a country one. The second track is appropriately country, but it’s an upbeat instrumental that feels out of place on the depressed album. It could be made to work, but sticking an instrumental right after a pointless intro presents it as filler instead of a legitimate song on its own.

The next several songs establish Orvis as a modern country virtuoso, mixing technically brilliant music with memorable, personal lyrics and strong, understated vocals. He lightens the “downer country” mood with a few upbeat songs that, unlike the early instrumental, still fit in the album thanks to their gritty production and references to the hard side of life.

Even once the album gets going, though, it makes several confounding choices. Why is “Streets” mixed with distracting hoots and applause from an audience, or “Shady Grove Gypsy Moon” introduced with another horror movie sample? “Dreadful Sinner”, a quiet recounting of vigilante justice, should be one of the best songs in recent years: The rich instrumentation is a prime example of how, despite the album title, it has not yet “all been said”, and Orvis’ matter-of-fact vocal delivery makes the lyrics haunting and unshakeable. (From his mouth, “wickedness is painless, but it’s blazing strong and true” sounds as simple and country as the later “that’s what we do with the dreadful sinner, hold him in the river till the bubbles are few”.) But Orvis apparently couldn’t find a way to start or end the song, with a half-minute of unnecessary sound clips on each end. What we’re left with is something that sounds like the middle portion of a longer epic, rather than a satisfying song on its own. (I recommend the video, which is scattered in other ways, but at least makes the opening and closing feel tied to the song.) It’s All Been Said may be excellent two thirds of the time, but a disappointing third is too much when it’s only 34 minutes long.

Jayke Orvis is an amazing talent, with a style that should be able to bridge the gap between standard country fans and the alt country scene. It’s no surprise that Saving Country Music named him the “Artist of the Year” based on the strength of It’s All Been Said. But the album doesn’t quite deserve as many accolades. It’s often excellent, but also uneven. I can easily recommend it, even though I’ll have to keep waiting for the classic that Orvis is obviously capable of creating.

Grade: B+

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