Kevin Hambrick must be on some kind of roll. In addition to having written over 350 songs over the course of his life, in the past six months he’s released a solo album and now an album with his band The Orange Opera, both brimming with high-caliber songs much too good to be confined to the 260 area code. I hereby respectfully request that he stop hogging the muse!
Ahem. Regardless of if muse-hogging has occurred, Hambrick and his band present Land Of Tall for your listening pleasure. Featuring Bryan Brubaker on bass, Kevin Hockaday on drums, Matt Tackett on guitar and Hambrick on everything else, the 11 songs have a definite retro pop rock vibe, as if Lennon and Harrison formed their own group with Rod Argent of The Zombies and rewrote music history in the early 70s. Adding to this is the now-lost practice of simultaneously balancing a polished and live sound that only comes from years of constant playing to the point that each member knows each others nuances and is able to read their musical minds. Instead of being raw or sloppy, the live feel that permeates these recordings is loose and organic, free from ProTool-ification. The fact that this astounding album was probably recorded in a basement with eight tracks is a strong testament to their skills as songwriters and musicians, because it sounds just as good as anything I’ve heard come out of a local studio.
At least three of these songs have previously been released on Hambrick’s solo albums. “Out of Focus” has more teeth this time out, with an aggressive guitar chewing through some mighty fine jazz chords, interrupted now and then by contrasting calm or an intensely melodic 70s riff. Hints of mellotron decorate “These Days,” a solid song that incorporates a John Lennon beat and builds to a Sgt. Pepper’s-era flurry of musical chaos. The title track from his recent Seratonin also gets a makeover, starting with a marching snare beat and creeping up on you with lazy vocals of “My seratonin’s at an all-time low,” before the band breaks in with a fevered wash of wah guitars and frantic electric piano. While the previous ultra-fuzzy version may have contributed to a mood of low seratonin, this stripped down version takes the song in a fabulously psychedelic direction.
The album opens with “Coy,” a Harrison-influenced fast shuffle with a dark edge as the romping piano leads the band through a spooky variation of the “Cry Baby, Cry” chord progression. “Sun Comes Up” is a full-out rocker with elements of Badfinger, breathlessly careening through two and a half minutes of catchy hooks. In “We Were Laughing” a roaring 20s piano stomps over a rowdy remembrance of “Every day / Every night / We were laughing,” eventually opening a door that leads to what sounds like a guitar played through one of those plastic spring-echo microphones for kids - and it works! A pensive piano in the resigned “Come On Try” is broken by a brash, punctuated guitar figure that may resound in your mind for days. The seratonin must have been at an all-time high when Hambrick wrote “Happy.” This peppy song finds joy in the minutia of each day, gleefully sauntering along in the pleasant shine of the summer sun, never failing to evoke a smile or tapping foot.
The constant songwriting has definitely paid off for The Orange Opera, as Land Of Tall is chock full of amazing songs of the highest caliber. Professional artwork and masterful production are merely icing on an already moist cake. If you can’t find a song to like on this collection you probably don’t have a pulse. Available at local Wooden Nickel stores and at www.theorangeopera.com.
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