Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Joyful - Orpheus
I imagine that most record collectors are familiar with the story of the "Bosstown Sound." It was a notorious hype that attempted to position Boston as the successor to the San Francisco Sound in the late 1960s. It was a shameless bit of record industry chicanery that I first learned of reading Lillian Roxon's "Rock Encyclopedia" as a teenager. In recent years there has been some revisionist thinking on this topic and defenses of the groups associated with it. I like some of the groups, most notably the Beacon Street Union, Ultimate Spinach and Earth Opera but I still don't believe the hype. This group just reinforces my opinion. I only acquired the three MGM Orpheus albums last year when I came across them at the record mart at the Pasadena City College Flea Market and was able to get them at a bargain price. I became interested in them from reading reviews of the CD reissues of their original albums. When I initially listened to the albums though I was dismayed. I found the music sappy and boring. With repeated listenings my opinion improved, but I still think the group is pretty minor. This was the band's third album and is the one I like the best. Orpheus played soft rock for the most part, a cross between the commercial pop of a group like the Association and the more ambitious, personal music of a group like Free Design, but ultimately not as satisfying as either. There are some nice arrangements and lovely vocal harmonies but the music itself is often not very memorable. Most of the songs on this album were written by the group's guitarist, Bruce Arnold often in collaboration with the group's bassist Eric Gulliksen. They are mostly lugubrious love songs. "As They All Fall" is the prettiest with a pleasant string arrangement and elaborate vocal harmonies. "May I Look at You" has a jaunty melody and "I Can Make The Sun Rise" features some propulsive acoustic guitar work and a greater sense of urgency than most of the songs on the record. "Lovin' You" is the closest thing to a rock song on the album, it is guitar-driven and relatively fast paced and easily my favorite song on the record. The vocal interplay on "Joyful" is very enjoyable and I like the hooky bass line. It segues into the delicate album closer, the pretentiously titled "Of Enlightenment." "To Touch Our Love Again" is just too sappy for me but it does have an interesting arrangement. There are also three songs that were written by others. "By the Size of My Shoes" by Larry Weiss and Jimmy Wilson is the most successful of the three, it has a nice soulful feel to it which is unusual for this group. It would have been a tasty song for a guy like Jerry Butler. Fans of the Turtles will probably be shocked by the Orpheus version of Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon's "Me About You." The Turtles classic version was cheerful soaring sunshine pop. Orpheus slows down the song and sucks all the life out of it, they might as well be singing about their dead girlfriend it is so gloomy. The other non-original is "Brown Arms in Houston" by Lesley Miller and Joe Henry. It was a flop single for the group. It sounds like something Glen Campbell or even Andy Williams might have sung, middle of the road with a very slight country/soul feel. With repeated spins, I've come to like this album, but very little of it sticks with me when it is done playing. I do appreciate its intelligence and grace, I just wish the music was a little more distinctive. It sounds best late at night, during the day it bores me. Recommended for people who think the Association are too loud.