Orphan Town Vol. 1
Dan Weir is the driving force behind Orphan Town and what a force he apparently is. He has managed to assemble a strong cast of talent that includes Prairie Prince (The Tubes, Todd Rundgren, Dick Dale, and XTC), Joe Gore (Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, DJ Shadow and eels), Ralph Carney (Tom Waits, B52s, They Might Be Giants), Stephanie Finch, and Chuck Prophet. I had to put my reading glasses back on as I’m quite sure I had misread that. Mr. Prophet had put out one of my favorite records of 2009 “Let Freedom Ring” (Yep Roc Records) and frankly, I was not expecting a performer of his caliber on this record.
I inserted the CD in the player, placed the ear buds in my ears, and commenced to be blown away. Through the tiny miniature marvels in my ears came the most amazing blues harp blasting its way into my outer ear, down the ear canal, penetrating my inner ear, colliding with those tiny bones, vibrating the sound originating from the CD into the right side of brain, bringing nothing but pure joy!
The first track is “Don’t Call a Doctor”, but as good as this tune was and the way it had me jumping and jiving around my living room, that is precisely what I was going to need. At the very least, a chiropractor. Ray Wilcox does an incredible job on vocals. The lyrics coming from deep down in the throat where blues should always come from, since that is, I’m sure, where the soul dwells in us all. Ralph Carney is playing the fore mentioned “lickin’ stick” with style, adding an element to the composition that facilitates Chuck Prophet leading the way on guitar. Mr. Prophet may be one of my favorite current guitar players out there. Prairie Prince and John-Paul MacLean on drums and bass respectively, bind it all together just as they are required. None of this can happen without a great rhythm section. “Orphan Town” has one of the best I have heard in some time in place on this tune.
The second track is a groovy little tune named for the famous crossword puzzle answer and movie director, “Elia Kazan”. This little ditty features J.J. Wiesler on the synthesizer, bass, and acoustic guitars, Joe Gore on lead guitar, Prairie Prince on drums, and Dan Weir on vocals. This tune’s arrangement is brilliant and is effortlessly sung by Mr. Weir. The song reminded me a bit of the late 60’s and very early 70’s Byrd’s or Flying Burrito Brothers type folk ballad, paying homage to the title character “Elia Kazan”.
Track three is a high-energy surf tune that will remind the listener of a Dick Dale tune with vocals. This one is called “Fools of Us All”. This gem features Joe Gore on guitar, bass, and organ, Prairie Prince on drums, and Ray Wilcox on vocals. It adds a touch of psychadelia I wish we heard more of in today’s rock ‘n roll music. Perhaps this will bring back that trend.
Track four is “Get It Got It Good”. It would be difficult to pick a favorite tune on this record, but this one just may be it. Ray Wilcox is featured bringing that soulful voice and adding an enormous amount of heart to this extraordinary R&B tune that again, literally had me up and out of my chair, dancing around my living room. I know it is probably an image people who know me would rather do without, but I can’t help it when I hear music this soulful. When a song is so expertly arranged and performed, there is only one thing that can happen; I’m up and dancing!
Finally, the listener is brought to track five, “The Fool on the Pill”, a little “anti-love” ballad beautifully sung by Stephanie Finch. We are also treated to Chuck Prophet on guitar, with Arnie Kim on slide guitar. Ms. Finch’s voice is perfectly suited for this song and is sung with a slight comic element to a song about falling out of love and the protagonist's expectations going in a direction that was never ever expected. It was somewhat of an anti-climactic way to end this set of five tunes. Perhaps I would have made this the first track to this compilation, but other than that, this was a great tune and it adds a complimentary essence to the feel of the EP.
This EP accomplished its goal: it left me yearning for more. I hope Mr. Weir keeps putting together records like this and can keep assembling the level of talent that resides here. This was a completely fantastic listening experience. I loved it. Orphan Town Vol. 1 has definitely earned a spot on the top shelf, containing records to be played repeatedly at my place.
Review by Rod Ames