Posts Tagged ‘ Jayke Orvis ’

Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band – Bless This Mess (Music Review)

Bless This Mess cover

Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band – Bless This Mess

When I reviewed Jayke Orvis’ first album, I said that he needed to find focus in order to make the masterpiece he was obviously capable of. Now he’s back as part of an official band, with a bit more focus, but I wish I hadn’t said that. It’s All Been Said took a long time to grow on me, but it’s an amazing work. Think of it as a stoner mix tape tied together with a strong country music focus, and you’ll have an idea of how it worked. Now, with Bless This Mess, Orvis and The Broken Band have deemphasized that side of him to focus on the country music.

I still believe that Orvis should be able to put out an absolutely stunning album. I see him releasing a work as disruptive and ground-breaking as Hank3’s Straight To Hell, but one that builds on country foundations instead of gleefully tearing at them. Just listen to the opening instrumental of Bless This Mess, which layers traditional country instrumentation in a rich, complex way. Unashamedly country, but intelligent and forward-thinking, this goes far beyond not only from soulless modern pop country, but also from the classics he’s building on.

But an opening instrumental, no matter how strong, needs to lead into another strong song. Instead, only two of the first five tracks on Bless This Mess are originals. As much as I love the culture of traditional songs in country, Orvis feels limited when he’s not doing his own thing. Even the classics generally were not very musically adventurous, and these excellent composers are held back. These tracks are still done well, but the band can’t be entirely themselves. “West Wind”, that other original, is a relief. Thematically similar to the covers around it, it nevertheless lets Orvis mix a confident slacker persona into the upbeat country. Once again, the album brings us something powerful and unique.

After another (great) instrumental, the second half slips plays to their strengths. The charismatic loner of “West Wind” returns on “Crooked Smile” and “Long Way Home”, while “Slow Down” brings some introspection to the album. “Lead Me Astray” touches on that Hank3-style rebelliousness, but with a B-movie ending that feels unique to Orvis’ own tastes. And the sea shanty of “Black Ship” closes it with the sort of experimentation that defined Orvis’ last album. (While an untitled bonus track goes too far out into weird territory, that’s actually reassuring after the more traditional songs that came earlier.)

Bless This Mess suffers as an album by putting an early focus on the things that do not define the band’s strengths. Looking past that, though, this is still a great collection of songs, and The Broken Band is capable of backing up Orvis’ wandering moods. I’m still waiting for that classic album, but releases like Bless This Mess will tide me over nicely.

Grade: B+

 
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Best Albums of 2011

It’s traditional for end-of-year lists to start with a self-aware apology. I’ll gloss over the standard part, because I assume you already know how silly and arbitrary this process is, that it’s only meant to reflect my own opinion, and so on. The only part that really gives me pause is how incomplete it is. I do this as a hobby, which means that I’m generally only reviewing the albums I’ve chosen to buy (or in a couple cases, borrowed from friends). This year, I reviewed 67 albums, only 32 of which were actually from 2011. I still have about 15 more from this year that I have yet to review. Now, I listened to part or all of a couple hundred albums online before I decided I was interested in the ones I bought, but it’s still a limited sample.

So, I’m sure I’ve missed a few gems. But at this point in my life, I’m pretty confident in my ability to find the music I’m most likely to enjoy. So I think it’s fair for me to pick a top 5 for the year. Even if I did buy and review a couple hundred more of the year’s popular albums, I think that these ones would manage to stay within the top 10.

I don’t really feel like there was a runaway #1 this year, but I’m comfortable defending each one’s position near the top. Yes, even the albums that no one else picked.

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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+