Out of Western North Carolina, the Asheville Symphony Orchestra brings to bare their top local talent in a melange of magical music from folk to R&B; from bluegrass to jazz, as they back such musical acts as Electric Owls, Shannon Whitworth, and Matt Townsend whose recent ‘The Drifter and the Dream – Part I‘, has already graced this publication. An incredible undertaking to be sure, here is, what has come to be called ‘The Asheville Symphony Sessions‘.
Hailing the ‘Filthy Dirty South‘, Rising Appalachia sings a laudable lament of the state of affairs in their “land of milk and honey”, with big business sucking the land dry of oil, and polluting the water. A wonderful, sorrowful Southern serenade of warning, these lovely ladies harmonize some haunting lounge lyrics, fitting perfectly their titular theme, with a great sense of environmental awareness. A great way to expose the troubles of the world, Rising Appalachia uses their seductive song, with Southern swing to warn not just the industries responsible for the damage, but also the general public who think nothing of it. Given that these are the Asheville Symphony Sessions, it should go without saying that the orchestra adds a power to this track that really pushes the envelope, and encompasses the enormity of the South in a way that may not otherwise have been portrayed.
Unfortunately the lyrics of this track are about as comprehensible to me as my ‘Last Monday‘ is memorable: I recall bits and pieces, but the day has passed on and more important things have filled the gaps. Doc Aquatic does certainly have going for it an appealing, ethereal, and ambient quality that is greatly enhanced by the Asheville Symphony, but I struggle to make out much more than a story about: going like a photograph, something to do with a hangman following, being bound like one man, cooling down a fire, faded, and knowing we all will make it, with daylight, not knowing who you are anymore. I’m not sure how these lyrics fit together into the song as I am missing much of the lyric, but in spite of that, the suspended quality of the song does have playback value for one looking for some ambient music to chill out to.
Lovett, hammering out on his very mini grand, belts out an energetic song, and the members of the youthful choir somehow ‘Don’t Freak Out‘, waiting for their chorus chant. There appears to be a connecting, and relatively uplifting thread running through these songs, offering up some sort of hope for the future of the world. The orchestra sets up a brilliant Beatles-esque composition for Lovett’s doubled vocals and, while the effect may be somewhat overdone, it is refreshing to be taken back to a different time; a happy tune for the young and old, with good, wholesome vibes.
Distracted at first by the similarity in the opening of ‘Pontiac‘ to ‘Fooled Around And Fell In Love‘ by Elvin Bishop, I had to give this interesting hybrid of late seventies/early eighties ballad meets nineties slow pop/punk, another listen. Simply based on the style, and my sincere love of a good hair metal ballad, the Electric Owls might have one of my favourite tracks on this album. One of those sorrowful songs that could work both for the brokenhearted teeny bopper, as well as the brokenhearted, middle-aged man, yearning for a lost lover to return, in this case, from ‘Pontiac‘, this ballad really pulls the heartstrings, and the orchestration does nothing but bolster that classic hair metal ballad sound.
Very akin to a jam ‘Circle Around The Flame‘, minus the synthetic bass, the organic quality of this track, along with the Tears for Fears-like vocals of featured artist Lizz Wright, Free Planet Radio really captures a sincerity in the cohesive manner of this very engaging tune. The minimal accentuation of the orchestra throughout the song really creates a seamless sense of humanity; of unity in a way not often achieved in music…at least not in such a touching way.
‘For Now, We Are‘ graced with a beautiful song by Matt Townsend. The soft, acoustic composition of Townsend‘s song works beautifully with a very cinematic-sounding orchestra. The country-folk feel, with the Hollywood-esque strings, and occasionally Dylan/Young-like vocals (almost a bit too on the nose) make for a scintillating piece, with an almost Collective Soul/The Verve-like breakdown. The adaptability of Matt Townsend‘s music gives a bit of something-reminiscent-of-something for everyone!
Going into this with ‘No Expectations‘ I was amazed, not being a very big fan of country, to have thoroughly enjoyed Shannon Whitworth‘s twang, and timbre. Musically reminiscent of ‘I’ll Be There For You‘ by Bon Jovi, at least through the verses, I was worried that this track might be a hollow rehash of something done over and over, but in spite of the incredibly similar melody, once the chorus hits, the keys are hammered, the orchestral strings sing so sweetly, and the guitar solo squeals, harmonies pour forth and break the listener’s heart…at least this writer’s heart. Such a powerfully built song, with an enormity that is checked by the dulcet voice of Whitworth, in the sweetest, and softest way. There is not doubt that she could have hit this song much harder, but it’s absolutely wonderful that she didn’t.
Now, I’ve never seen ‘Blue Velvet Rain‘ before, but the Steep Canyon Rangers have educated me in how one can take a very stereotypical-sounding country ballad…and sort of keep as a stereotypical-sounding country ballad, with much heavier, scratchier fiddling (which is damn powerful when it comes in hard off the bow), some great mandolin accents, and a bit more of a cryptic lyric than most country songs are capable of. For even that much of a shake up to the old country standard, my hat goes off to them, and since it is in fact a cowboy hat, I feel it appropriate, and hope they deem it worthy.
All in all, the Asheville Symphony Sessions is an incredible compilation of North Carolinian talent that makes this journalist wonder why there isn’t more music coming out of the mid-Eastern coast of America in a big way, and one can only hope that the Asheville Symphony, along with the notable, and admirable featured artists on this album do make a great name for themselves and for the wonderful music scene that clearly exists in North Carolina today.