The Weekend Dispatch: Underwhelming Grammys, Orpheus (Re)Ascending


DISCLAIMER: The following article on the 2017 Grammy Award nominations contains sentiments of a disgruntled nature, which some may find disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.

This week saw the announcement of the nominees for the 59th annual Grammy Awards (airing as usual on the CBS television network - date: February 12th, 2017), by former trophy-holder (and Berklee school grad) Meghan "All About That Bass" Trainor. Needless to say, anyone who's spent time in a vehicle with Sirus XM radio over the past year has heard the artists and/or songs who received a nod for their contributions to the musical landscape: from pop heavyweight Adele's ubiquitous "Hello" (nominated for Record of the Year), to the battle-royale between Adele's 25, BeyoncĂ©'s pop/crossover hybrid Lemonade, country newcomer Sturgill Simpson's A Sailor's Guide To Earth and chart-idol Justin Beiber's Purpose for Album of the Year. 

Surprisingly, releases by Radiohead and glam-rock icons Iggy Pop and the late David Bowie somehow wound up sharing space on the "Alternative" album category, particularly when you consider that musically speaking, even the constructs on Radiohead's baroque-pastoral A Moon Shaped Pool and Bowie's pazzjop/goth farewell Blackstar seem less experimental or avant-garde than the majority of contemporary radio's stalwarts. Frankly, I'm inclined to think Bowie will get the posthumous nod over Radiohead, especially given the critical canonization the (somewhat uneven) album received by the music press. And it's an even tougher call to say who will win in a grudge-match between Queen Bey and Adele. If it's Adele, let's hope Kanye West is still recuperating from his post-hospitalization burnout/breakdown. 



Sturgill Simpson: No, I don't know what it means...
[pic courtesy Atlantic Records]

Sturgill Simpson's Sailor's Guide To Earth is one of those albums that folks with a short-attention span will glom onto as being something fresh and unique, despite Simpson's smells-like-Randy Travis croon and his seemingly 'daring' country ballad cover of Nirvana's "In Bloom", but novelty notwithstanding, I've yet to hear anything that speaks to me of creative or aesthetic promise: certainly not any of those perfunctory clichés that name-check Johnny Cash songs or highway metaphors, or his Joe 6-pack by way of American Idol image. It may sound harsh, but I've gotta call 'em as I sees 'em. Sorry, but there's something fundamentally fucked-up when Sturgill Simpson is the household name for what's great about new music today, while true geniuses like Drive By Truckers (whose American Band is clearly one the bright lights of 2016) can't even register a blip on the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences' radar. Add having next year's show hosted by the so-obnoxious-may-he-be-kidnapped-by ISIS James Corden, and you couldn't pay me enough to care.


ORPHEUS RETURNS TO STUDIO, BEGINS WORK
ON NEW ALBUM AT SKYWALKER RANCH

When speaking to Bruce Arnold, songwriter and frontman for the iconic 60's band Orpheus from the West Coast the other day, I was tempted to open up our conversation by saying, "Bruce.....I AM YOUR FATHER!!" How could I not avoid such a silly pun after being informed that he and the other members of the band are currently working on a new album at George Lucas' legendary studio and soundstage, Skywalker Ranch - located in idyllic Marin County, CA. For Arnold, it was a welcome return to the place which birthed the sessions for 2010's Orpheus Again - a locale that not only inspires his creative juices to flow, but provides the ideal setting for his laid-back, mellow, mellifluous songcraft.


John and Bruce Arnold outside Skywalker Ranch studio
[pic by John Arnold]

Two years ago, when the band celebrated its Boston Homecoming show at Berklee Performance Center with a full orchestra supporting the band through classic tunes like "Can't Find The Time" and "Congress Alley", Arnold surprised us with an intimate set of new tunes featuring just him and his acoustic guitar. One of those songs, "I Dreamed I Dreamed" has been included in the sessions for Opheus' as-yet-untitled studio album, scheduled for a Spring 2017 release, if all goes well. While Arnold appears to have adopted the work ethic of winemakers Ernest and Julio Gallo, vowing not to release any new music "before its time", band mate and progeny John Arnold is determined to give fans an infusion of the feel-good and tuneful melodies that have made Orpheus one of those lesser known though no less prominent voices of 60's pop. 

After all, this is the band that shared bills with such legends as Janis Joplin, The Who, Cream, Led Zeppelin (yes, I said, Led Zeppelin), Vanilla Fudge, Spencer Davis Group, Ten Years After, and others; a band that experimented with psychedelia on such tracks as "The Dream" and "Just Got Back"; that ushered in the sound of "soft rock" and "baroque pop" before the terminology ever existed. And with guitarist/singer John Arnold eerily replicating the sanguine, signature vocals of his dad, it's almost as if time has literally stood still. So what can we expect from the upcoming return of Orpheus? Will the new album spark the same kind of resurgence and critical affirmation which greeted this year's Good Times! release by The Monkees? For the answer to these and other burning questions, check out my exclusive interview with Bruce Arnold, coming soon.


Bruce Arnold at work in the studio
[pic by Jonathan Frieman]

Comments

  1. Did you even listen to A Sailor's Guide To Earth? There's no mention of Johnny Cash songs, highway metaphors or Joe 6-pack. It sounds like you have Sturgill Simpson confused with bro-country. The whole album is essential a message of a father's advice and wisdom to his son. He's not even a household name in country. He's an outsider from Music Row and has been blackballed by the country music industry being snubbed by both the ACM and the CMA's.

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  2. I watched videos of the songs on Youtube, so I cannot say I followed a contextual thread. I did not say he was a household name in country, I said he has become a household name in the area of new music artists, and the press he has received confirms that.

    There's no mention of him being supposedly blackballed by the country music industry on Wikipedia, which would be a considerable hurdle considering he makes his home in Nashville. Correction: the lyric was "lake of fire", not "ring of fire" (in "Turtles All The Way Down") but the Cash comparison still holds, as does the lyrical inferences to the road. Sturgill's songs may be heartfelt and sincere (sentiments I did not question), but DBT are better songwriters and their lyrics hold greater gravitas than Simpson's odes to his son.

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