Saturday, August 4, 2007

Empty Orchestra

By: Travis Valentine

As someone who has always loved listening to music and yammering on about it for days, I know that I’ve found a special group when it’s difficult for me to start talking about them or to tell someone about them. Empty Orchestra are the sort of musicians that you, simply from hearing or seeing them, have such an enormous amount of respect for that you can’t possibly explain how amazing they are. Stephen Wisniewski and his revolving cast of Flint music legends form a sound so eclectic and powerful that the cerebral hit of the beautifully potent lyrics and the soul wrenching musicianship are a one-two punch that will make almost anyone an instant fan.

The thing that first attracted me to Empty Orchestra was lead singer and songwriter, Stephen Wisniewski’s unusual voice and singing style, and moreover the fact that this particular voice was coming out of such a small guy. I’d heard his previous/other band Lingua Franca play live twice and own their split 7 inch with The Conquer Worm, and though Stephen’s voice was still powerful and made use of his unusual phrasing, it was no where near the gruff, visceral bellow that inhabits the voice part of Empty Orchestra. Stephen can go from the howl of a 70 year old bluegrass singer in a dive bar somewhere in Mississippi to a soft baritone, gently crooning an eerie tale at the drop of a hat and it’s only one of dozens of factors that make Empty Orchestra such a strong group of musicians.

The band’s new full length and second CD is called “Here Lies… Empty Orchestra”. The tracks on it blend elements of folk, rock, alt-country, and bluegrass with a grace that’s beyond their years. There is a very soulful quality to the record as well that gives you that gritty, deep soul sound with traces of rhythm and blues. Songs like “World on a String” have a dirty bluegrass quality with Stephen channeling the earthy croon of a 70 year-old man sitting in a smoky bar somewhere in the deep south. There really isn’t a song on the record that doesn’t stand out. The day after going to their CD release in Flint I was driving to Lansing with my wife, listening to the CD and every song I’d say “Turn it up, I love this one.” Tracks like “This Heart is a Monster” tell stories that keep you listening to every word as you follow the intricate musicianship through it’s various twists and turns. There’s a few more stripped down songs on the album (“Like Pianos”, “Lonesome”) as well that show you a more soulful, emotional side to the songwriting. If anything can be said of Stephen’s singing it’s that he has range. His ability to go from zero to sixty in three seconds flat is as admirable as his writing.

The final characteristic of this record that I’d like to draw attention to is the beautiful production. An enormous amount of credit should be given to Mark Michalik not only for his drumming but for his ability to record a beautifully glossy recording.


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