Review of Orphan in the Storm
Originally posted on www.Chronicles of Chaos.com
Reviewed by Todd DePalma
One of the most problematic absences affecting music today -- be it folk, pop, metal or any other genre -- is that of authenticity. While it's common to identify the missing piece as originality, the word is an illusion; it's something that never was, or has not been for a very long time. We generally attach it to those who either move with an interesting flair of imagination in their chosen craft, based on the previous work of others (this too wanes in certain arenas) or are simply clever swindlers. As for authenticity, musicians sometimes gear their work towards a certain atmosphere, but few are able to offer such wonderful and genuine songs whose sound is without a hint of novelty or contrived labor as Robert N Taylor and Nicholas Tesluk, the duo behind Changes' thirty-six year legacy -- and, I might add, be able to do it as well after decades in hiatus. Again, this is not meant to imply that Changes' brand of folk music exists ex nihilo; only that they are a breathing relic from a period no other person(s) today could imitate if they tried.
"Don't talk to me of failure,
and don't tell me of your doubt,
Just tell me if you'll be there,
For the fight that must be fought"
- Changes, "The Times They Ain't a Changin'"
The zeitgeist of the Sixties, a period of literally warring counter-cultures and movements, is again carried over for fourteen acoustic tracks in keeping with the traditional folk style of times past. The title of the group's latest album, _Orphan in the Storm_, is a reference to the American author Edgar Allan Poe, whose portrait also adorns the album's cover. Poe, who was in fact orphaned at age three, began publishing his work in 1827, and although he is credited with the creation of the detective genre and attained notoriety in his life, for a time he was more admired abroad than at home. His stories and especially his poems, with their often memorable rhythm and complex subject matter, have been to many a bridge from child to adulthood and represent both personal growth and tragedy. Though his veneration in the mainstream of American education generally confines understanding of his writing to only three or four poems and short stories, his sense of the macabre, and more importantly, of journey and loss, remains a fount of inspiration up to the present day.
"Toward the burnt-out skies of sunset,
By the salt-sea's wind of mist
'Cross the blackened brine of silence,
Where the night stars weave their nest"
- Changes, "Embarkation"
These newly recorded tracks communicate a heroic idealism through the beautiful timbre of Tesluk's twelve string guitar and Taylor's booming, oaken voice. When trying to place their sound in the context of contemporary artists, the comparison to Simon and Garfunkel is both unavoidable and inappropriate. As smooth and hypnotic as this music can be, it remains combative. One of the first modern groups to write about Norse mythology, Changes' current material features less of the secession and lost love themes found on _Fire of Life_ and emphasizes more of that intrepid spirit in the lyrics. The traveler, lover, artist and fighter are brought forth with an introspective and soulful delivery, weaving metaphor and fantasy into potent critiques. The haunting words of "Icarus", with its prognostic chorus liken science's attempts to escape death and level humanity, to that of the myth's famous flight towards the sun. Both "The Times They Ain't a Changing" and "Waiting for the Fall" are more direct in their call for revolution. In a similar vein, the re-recorded "Twilight of the West" features Changes at their most biting and confrontational. Also re-recorded for this album is the aubade of "Summer" and "Song of Pan", both previously released on the group's split EP with death / folk band Cadaverous Condition (this time sounding more full and pronounced). Meanwhile "Aphrodite" features a sensual electric guitar solo dancing through the bridge, as does "The Reckoning", marking a first in their discography and boosting an otherwise mundane song. Perhaps the most moving piece of all here is the title track, which evokes a brief but heartfelt tribute that makes use of select lines by the master himself; summing up the writer's life and death with the cold reality that came from his own stories like a vapor.
It is possible to be fierce and humble when required, and it's that variety and honesty in craft that make _Orphan in the Storm_ the rich and passionate album it is. A highly recommended work of anti-modernist storytelling.
(This recording also features performances and back up by Michael Moynihan and Robert Ferbrache, members of long standing neo-folk outfit Blood Axis.)