Monday, July 27, 2015

The Return Of The Orange Humble Band

Darryl Mather, formerly of the Lime Spiders, formed the Orange Humble Band in 1995 with the help of some friends that included indie songwriter/producer extraordinaire Mitch Easter, Ken Stringfellow of The Posies and Big Star's Jody Stephens.  Two records, one in 1997 and one in 2001, had their moments of pop brilliance, with 2001's "Humblin' (Across America)" often referred to as one of the greatest power pop records of all time. I like that record, but I don't love it.

I do love "Depressing Beauty," the new Orange Humble Band record and their first in almost 15 years.

Aided once again by Mitch Easter, Jody Stephens and Ken Stringfellow, Darryl Mather also employs Dwight Twilley, Susan Cowsill, Jon Auer (Stringfellow's partner in Posies crime) and Muscle Shoals legend Spooner Oldham for the ride and recording at the legendary Ardent Studios.

This is from the Citadel Records press release:

Returning to Ardent was like a homecoming," Mather commented. "So many significant ups and downs have happened both in my life and the band member's lives over the past 10 or so years. We realised at our reunion in Austin, whilst celebrating a sneak preview of Big Star's documentary film 'Nothing Can Hurt Me', that it was time to reunite to create some fresh new music, which not only honoured our varied musical roots but also the many fallen friends we have sadly lost over the last decade".

Along with the towering pop figure of Dwight Twilley, additional special musical guests for this recording include Susan Cowsill (background vocals), Spooner Oldham (Wurlitzer piano), multi-instrumentalist Shawn Lynch, (backing vocals, guitar, keyboards and percussion), Kirk Smothers, (baritone and tenor sax), Scott Thompson (trumpet and flugelhorn) and former Alex Chilton long time colleague Jim Spake (tenor sax and clarinet).

Finally, as a most welcoming inclusion, string arrangements were created and scored by Carl Marsh. Cult like in status, Marsh most famously wrote and conducted strings for the revered Big Star's 'Third' album of 1974. Hailed pop luminary Chris Stamey (dB's) also provided additional string arrangements.

I was mostly impressed with the sound of "Depressing Beauty." There is a familiar feeling throughout that reminds me of so many AM radio hits of the 70s and yet "Depressing Beauty" never feels retro. You will no doubt hear Dwight Twilley and of course, Big Star all over this record, but there is also something very southern and very soulful about these tunes.

I'll keep my gushing to a minimum, as I am still sitting with "Depressing Beauty." I will say this. One of my biggest complaints about new music is that I can never remember any of it. There is always something lacking, usually a hook or melody, and I rarely want to go back. First pass through "Depressing Beauty" and I immediately wanted to go back. So much jumped out at me. Maybe you'll feel the same.


buzzbabyjesus said...

Jody Stephens kept my attention all the way through. The drum sound and fills reminded how important his contribution to Big Star was. By the middle I noticed all the other elements were good too. If it sounds retro at all it's because it's well crafted music played on real instruments and without any autotune. Brings me back to the better cd's from the crates at your store circa 1996.

And BTW I've downloaded 38 Weekend Mixes, and found many great songs by artists I didn't know had it in them.

Anonymous said...

I've been a fan of OHB since the get-go so it was a marvelous day when I heard that a new album was coming from Darryl and the boys (apparently, the album's been finished for a couple of years, they were just trying to get a record/distribution deal). I've had a handful of listens so far and though not quite as accessible or varied as Assorted Creams (which I believe is the one that is considered one the greatest PP records), I'm encouraged that with each listen, I'm discovering new things to love about this album. There's a tremendous amount of texture, subtle hooks and as you mentioned, Sal, a great southern, soulful feel. I don't know of many other artists that can combine so many influences of all of the participants of this band and make it sound so cohesive. I also urge your readers to give this a listen. A vinyl release may be forthcoming later this year. As a big OHB fan, I really appreciate you giving these guys a shout-out. Thanks, Sal. Randy

William Repsher said...

That first track I sampled sounds really good. But I'm having, er, issues, lately with the hipster mindset. Not with this track or gathering of musicians, per se. But I'm thinking, this track sounds like America, or Bread. Or any other soft rock band of the 70's ... whom we're not so subtly trained to think of in a more goofy light as opposed to say, Bob Dylan or David Bowie.

So, while we're supposed to goof on Firefall or Pablo Cruise ... when a band of talented indie musicians replicates the same sound (admittedly, not quite as good, but pretty damn near), we're supposed to take them much more seriously? Even though they're doing the same thing on a slightly less accomplished scale?

I got the same vibe with the new Wilco in a different way. A handful of those tracks sound like a garage-band attempt at glitter rock. Now, I know the guys in Wilco are talented enough to directly replicate glitter rock. I'm sure if they covered "All the Young Dudes" the arrangement would be tasteful and of a certain level to let me know these guys are real musicians, and someone in the band really knows how to arrange music.

So ... they're pretending they're lesser musicians on these tracks? Why? Who are they trying to impress?

Anything Should Happen said...

I was gonna review this tomorrow Sal, but I'll give you the space. I've had a good few listens and it's worth the wait. It has it's flaws and it's a bit too long, but personally I think it's great. You get what you'd expect.

I can't agree with William's summary at all. It certainly isn't soft rock, certainly not Bread.

Sure you can look for something different, but why would you? You know what to expect from Mather and Stringfellow and you get just that and that's fine to these ears.

I'd not go as overboard as Randy, but 2015 is proving a decent year so far and this adds to it.

Sal Nunziato said...

I will probably get smacked for this comment, but I don't care.

There is a certain type of "hipster" who gets off on irony. "Oh how ironic it is to like Everything I Own by Bread," as opposed to those, like me and I'd bet William, who recognize Bread and America as great bands. As a matter of fact, you can hear Bread's influence in many Posies tracks. AND...both Jon and Ken have covered tracks from the "Baby I'm A Want You" record, which is a brilliant pop album.

I understand what William is saying, though as he says, it's not necessarily about the Orange Humble Band.

William Repsher said...

Buddy, that's Bread! That's soft rock. Mellow gold, if you will. And I mean it as a compliment. I'll surely check out the album and anything else these guys have going on.

Dwight Twilley's involved? How does a song like "Out of My Hands" stack up to, say, "Something's Wrong with Me" by Austin Roberts? How does "Night Time" by Alex Chilton stack up against "All by Myself" by Eric Carmen? I really don't want to make any qualitative comparisons -- just to point out that at some point, these guys sat at a piano and wrote these songs. If you could hear the demos, they wouldn't sound all that far apart. The main difference is Roberts and Carmen got the full 70's production treatment (i.e., full orchestra) and major label support ... while Twilley and Chilton struggled (despite critical acclaim).

My point is I know a good song when I hear it. And I wouldn't care if it was Cyndi Lauper or St. Vincent. It wasn't so much that 70's pop was that bad at the time (although that seems like common knowledge to a lot of folks now) as that it was going up against Neil Young, Dylan, the Stones, the solo Beatles, Roxy Music, Bowie, etc. A bunch of talented indie guys getting together now and putting out a similarly good ballad done in the same style?

Who and what are they up against now? I think that's a large part of what I'm getting at, too. They're going up against, maybe Muse? Coldplay? The Killers? Adele? Compare and contrast. Judge accordingly. Talented musicians these days will have that talent critically recognized, unlike David Gates or Dewey Bunnell. Of Course, Gates and Bunnell have cried all the way to the bank, but that's right, we're supposed to feel somehow superior to them. I'd rather live in the real world, where artists like that know their worth and don't sweat the hipsters.

Sal Nunziato said...

William, are you addressing me or ASH? I was agreeing with you.

hpunch said...

David Gates produced Captain Beefheart, so that should give him some hipster cred.
How can anyone deny the songwiriting brilliance of Everything I Own?
I never quite understood the song Baby I'm A Want You.
Is he claiming to be something I never heard of, some creature called a "Want You".
Was it supposed be sung by one of the Fat Albert characters?

William Repsher said...

ASH, surely no offense intended to either of you. But this is a topic I always enjoy getting into as so much of it is simple perception and what we're culturally trained (or guided?) to respect.

buzzbabyjesus said...

Bread is unexplored territory for me, so thanks for pointing out the origin of a long time favorite song. I knew it was a soft-rock cover, but I never knew by who, and since "soft rock" is not celebrated at Casa BBJ, I didn't really care. I vaguely thought that like "To Love Somebody" (I'm partial to The Flying Burrito Bros version), it was maybe The Bee Gees.

Anyway here is, if not the definitive version of "Everything I Own", at least a contender by reggae star Ken Boothe. Released in the '70's and possibly contemporary with the original.