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Orpheum Bell - Pretty as You

Pretty as You

Orpheum Bell

Available from CD Baby.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

Beautifully packaged, looking to be an olde art nouveau item of quietly dark eleganza, the intimation of drear gothic enterprise is not betrayed when the listener finds the group isn't some new arty 4AD ensemble but rather a moody prairie quintet (with guest) showcasing extremely attractive chops and trad vocals set in renewed context. Pretty as You is Orpheum Bell's debut and was recorded with refined accuracy in a living room, everything about it speaking of considered compositions, veteran experience, and literate lyricism drawn from elder days and almost nihilistic thoughts.

Merrill Hodenfield is the lead vocalist, and she languidly pours out reflections on sad reminiscences and bizarre characters:

Long now she kissed me gone, when will I find another one
To do me dirt, to hurt me wrong
The sheriff bows his head, the river strokes its dead
And waits for something from above

…while Paul Fine rasps an almost chambery violin in melancholy cadence with Serge van der Voo's deceptively descriptive contrabass underpinning it all, sometimes plucked, sometimes bowed like a crooning cello. Shaun Williams' accordion likewise twists tradition into a more peppery flavor as Aaron Klein wields guitar and banjo, as well as secondary vocals and the bulk of the writing credits. Note, please, that I've spoken of nothing percussive. The group does without it beautifully. I hadn't even notice until I pored over the liner notes and then found myself surprised. Two Over Ten might be the best access point, as the cut is an instrumental showing how Orpheum Bell saunters an elegant tightrope between old days and new, progressive as hell while firmly rooted.

This is not to give that particular piece precedence, though, as every song on the disc is savory and tantalizing, but the track does show the foundation thinking. The CD's delineations are of an order that places the group in a category with Guggenhiem Grotto (here) and other roots-anchored purveyors of quite superior fare. The Grotto trio is more pop oriented but possesses the same integrities and intriguing nuances, not to mention many similar antecedents. Orpheum Bell is one of their reflections in a deep well hung over by grey billowing clouds and the threat of rain. They're neither derivative nor fellow travelers but very kindred in discerning sophisticated exposition.

Track List:

  • Pretty as You
  • Mama Waits
  • Rabbit Field
  • Two over Ten
  • Midnight Terms
  • Motor in the Weeds
  • Lucinda's Lament
  • Something from Above
  • Metropolitan Waltz
  • Feel like a Million
  • Slowly, Betty Pulls Ahead

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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