Orpheum Bell
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Orpheum Bell

Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States | INDIE

Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States | INDIE
Band Folk Country

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"'Pearls' Review"

...."they weave a rich tapestry with their guitars, banjo, ukulele, dobro, autoharp, accordion, mandolin, musical saw, upright bass, percussion, and hurdy gurdy, which sometimes strikes us as essentially mythical. Especially the duo- or harmony of several voices and violin-playing ladies Annie, Laurel, and Merrill, contribute to the deceptively naive and fairy like atmosphere. All composers and instrumentalists together create a unique world in which among other things trees are homesick, the beach is covered with unfulfilled dreams, and the moon is called a coward." - Rootstime (Belgian Review by Mieke Geukens)


"'Pearls' CD Review"

"The Ann Arbor-based sextet Orpheum Bell delivers an intriguing blend of Django Reinhardt gypsy jazz and song stylings reminiscent of "Rain Dog"-era Tom Waits on "Pearls" (****, self-released), the group's exquisitely played -- and packaged -- second release. Sporting letter-pressed artwork that looks like something out of the Civil War period, the music also features instrumentation from another era, with hurdy-gurdy, shepherd harp, ukuleles and even a musical saw coming into play. Guitarist Aaron Klein sings with the Waits-ian growl, while violinist Merrill Hodnefield provides a nice contrast with her gentler, more lilting vocals."

"Orpheum Bell rings the strongest on the ambitious "Hard Money Suite," which closes with the sensational "New Hearse for Hastings," delving into dark subject matter with relish." - Detroit Free Press (Martin Bandyke)


"Orpheum Bell - 'A Gem of a Band'"

.. .."live the band has a bewitching energy. They channel all of their old-timey vibes into a performance that's earthy and vibrant and makes you feel like you're witnessing - and simultaneously part of - an amazing artistic endeavor".. .. - Ann Arbor Observer (Katie Whitney)


"'Pretty as You' CD Review"

"Orpheum Bell saunters an elegant tightrope between old days and new, progressive as hell while firmly rooted. Beautifully packaged, quietly dark eleganza showcasing extremely attractive chops and trad vocals set in renewed context....everything about it speaking of considered compositions, veteran experience, and literate lyricism drawn from elder days and almost nihilistic thoughts." - Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange (Mark S. Tucker)


"Orpheum Bell's 'Pearls'"

"Ann Arbor quintet Orpheum Bell self-describes their music as “Country and Eastern” – a mix of Balkan gypsy and traditional country with folk music influences. Their latest release Pearls features banjo, accordion, trumpet, soprano trombone, shepherd harp, musical saw, a suitcase pump organ, cittern, guitar and dobro, double bass, foot percussion and ukulele, culminating in another lovely album of rich lullabies, duets, stomps, rustic ballads, and gypsy waltzes. Orpheum Bell is unique, fresh and captivating; a band not to be missed by traditional music fans." - Record Dept. (J. Felton)


"Orpheum Bell's 'Pearls' A True Gem"

....."Orpheum Bell achieves something unique on "Pearls", the band's new album: reaching deep into the past yet sounding completely fresh. It's a terrific, fascinating work, and reaffirms the band's reputation as a local treasure - and one that deserves a much wider audience."

"The unusual instruments (plus the near-total abscence of drums, which aren't missed at all) start to explain the original sound of Orpheum Bell, but they're just a part of it. The lyrics - evocative yet mysterious, plainspoken yet cryptic - are another part. Bust mostly, it can't be explained; this is music you need to hear."

"Ah, yes, well played. Can't forget that. These folks are excellent musicians, skilled, and soulful. And throughout the album they work as an ensemble so well it seems they were meant to do this together."

"Finally, even the packaging concept of this album deserves some attention, too. Fully folded out, the cover derives from an old check. The cover was then letterpressed with copper plates on recycled paper using a hand-fed cylinder letterpress. And the whole thing only enhances the overall themes and feel of the album."

....this album stands out. Orpheum Bell is a remarkable band, and "Pearls" is an amazing album." - Ann Arbor.com (Bob Needham)


"Surrealist Whispers from the Past"

"......there's a collection of younger artists who take the surrealist rather than the sunny side of 1920s culture as a point of departure, but Orpheum Bell goes beyond most of them. If you happen to have seen Guy Maddin's entirely individual take on the visual language of European silent films, you might think of Orpheum Bell as something like the musical equivalent. This local band turned out a nearly full house of young people at one of the Ark's free Take a Chance Tuesday concerts in September, and when young people pay attention to something quiet, everybody would do well to take notice."

http://arborweb.com/articles/orpheum_bell.html - Ann Arbor Observer (James M. Manheim)


"'Pretty as You' CD Review"

"This band defies classification. With instrumentation that includes violin, banjo, upright bass, percussion, accordion, pedal steel guitar, mandolin, musical saw and vocals, Orpheum Bell is brimming with talent, imagination, ethnic variety and soul. Merrill Hodnefield opens the CD with her sultry and silky vocals, quietly transporting the listener into a musical world where acoustic roots, classical sensibilities and gypsy jazz meet head on and swirl into a beautiful whirlwind of sound. The instrumentals, particularly “Two over Ten,” showcase the enormous talent of this varied group of musicians, interweaving old world traditions with a contemporary edge. The sense of contrast is heightened when Aaron Klein’s vocals make an appearance, with a voice that is as raspy around the edges as Hodnefield’s is velvety. Together the collective members of Orpheum Bell bring all these elements together in a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience." - Victory Music (Hilary Field)


"Orpheum Bell featured on 'You Crazy Dreamers'"

"Words and Tones have been thrown......welcome to Orpheum Bell's musical world. Labeled as "Country and Eastern", the Ann Arbor's Quintet's compositions are giving the listener this unique ubiquity gift in both time and place! From almost traditional country-ballads to gypsy waltzes, from the raspy vocals of Aaron Klein (a la Stuart Staples), to Merrill Hodnefield's sweet-sweet and so beautifully placed - voice, for sure, you're travelling with a first-class ticket!

With a long line of instruments (accordion, banjo, clarinet, fiddle, guitar, ukulele, autoharp, double bass, mandolin, pedal steel, musical saw, and the rare Tiebel (horned) Violin, you'll have to face a real full band, giving each note meaningful rhythm in some delicious instrumental tracks such as 'Motor in the Weeds' or 'Two over Ten'." - You Crazy Dreamers (Olivier le Brenn)


"Orpheum Bell Review"

"...pure country/bluegrass, which perfectly flows in harmony with intricate Eastern Europe sensibilities." - Real Detroit (Eric Allen)


"Orpheum Bell featured in the Northern Express"

"Orpheum Bell's lineup is perhaps one of the most multifarious you might ever see in a popular-music band. Orpheum Bell basically means "theater bell," and their music certainly has a theatrical element to it. Their sound is self-described as 'Country and Eastern,' melding the performers' top-notch musicianship with complex lyrics and intricate arrangements; the songs somehow manage to both harken back to an earlier time (which the band echoes on their beautifully-designed packaging) and evoke a sound that's so new it's difficult to categorize it at all." - Northern Express (Kristi Kates)


"Orpheum Bell, Handmade Music"

The music of Orpheum Bell is self-described as “country and eastern.” The country elements are easy enough to pick out: banjo, bass, mandolin, violin.

But Laurel Premo’s style is not the ostentatious metallic ringing banjo typical of some American country music. Instead, it is an almost muted strum that can still tickle forth individual notes from her open back 5-string. And Annie Crawford’s Stroh violin, with its metal horn, projects a sound a bit different from a country music fiddle.

The eastern influences come partly from the Stroh violins, but more from Michael Billmire’s accordion. And based on their sound, it’s on occasion easy enough to imagine that Orpheum Bell is a band of gypsies. The tracks that feature Merrill Hodnefield’s musical saw are just a little bit spooky.

Part of what makes it difficult to slot Orpheum Bell into a convenient musical slot is their use of variation in tempo – all driven by van der Voo’s bass, whether he’s bowing it, plucking it, or whacking its body with the palms of his hands.

What Orpheum Bell has achieved musically with this new CD “Pearls” is consistent with the poetry of Aaron Klein, who’s responsible for most of the lyrics and much of the music. It’s not surprising that songs collected together under the title “Pearls” have water imagery woven throughout. - The Ann Arbor Chronicle


"Orpheum Bell, Handmade Music"

The music of Orpheum Bell is self-described as “country and eastern.” The country elements are easy enough to pick out: banjo, bass, mandolin, violin.

But Laurel Premo’s style is not the ostentatious metallic ringing banjo typical of some American country music. Instead, it is an almost muted strum that can still tickle forth individual notes from her open back 5-string. And Annie Crawford’s Stroh violin, with its metal horn, projects a sound a bit different from a country music fiddle.

The eastern influences come partly from the Stroh violins, but more from Michael Billmire’s accordion. And based on their sound, it’s on occasion easy enough to imagine that Orpheum Bell is a band of gypsies. The tracks that feature Merrill Hodnefield’s musical saw are just a little bit spooky.

Part of what makes it difficult to slot Orpheum Bell into a convenient musical slot is their use of variation in tempo – all driven by van der Voo’s bass, whether he’s bowing it, plucking it, or whacking its body with the palms of his hands.

What Orpheum Bell has achieved musically with this new CD “Pearls” is consistent with the poetry of Aaron Klein, who’s responsible for most of the lyrics and much of the music. It’s not surprising that songs collected together under the title “Pearls” have water imagery woven throughout. - The Ann Arbor Chronicle


Discography

'Pretty as You' (debut release '07) and 'Pearls' ('09) co-produced with Jim Roll of Backseat Productions in Ann Arbor, MI.

Performers on 'Pearls' include Laurel Premo (vocals/banjo/dobro/violin), Merrill Hodnefield (vocals/saw/violin), Shaun Williams (accordion/banjo/clarinets), Drew Howard (pedal steel/mando), Matt Jones (drums), Colette Alexander (cello), Meg Bedwell (vocals) and Jim Roll, Billy Harrington, and Al Diblassio (percussion).

Photos

Bio

Equipped with an orchestral ensemble of banjo, accordion, trumpet, xylophone, shepherd harp, musical saw, pedal steel, a suitcase pump organ, cittern, guitar and dobro, double bass, foot percussion, various ukuleles and mechanical horned violins, Orpheum Bell performs an original "Country & Eastern" songbook of lullabies, stomps, dirt-road ballads, and gypsy suites and waltzes.

The band came together in 2005 when former Chicago bandmates (Serge van der Voo, Aaron Klein) reconnected in an old Michigan house to trade tapes and listen. Combing through the ruins of originals ideas and melodic fragments, they began to develop a lyrical, percussive sound driven by Klein's "downtrodden rural poetry" and van der Voo's fluid, Hot Club-infused bass lines.

Over the course of the next two years, several multi-instrumentalists coalesced around the core, creating a stark, darkly ornamented sound heard on their 2007 debut release, "Pretty As You".

Relying on old, acoustic instruments, the band's sound moves from chiseled, plaintive song stories to articulate, richly-played instrumentals. The members come at the music from different angles - a classically trained harpsichordist, a rural folk polymath, a church choir girl, one from Holland, another from Ukraine.

Katie Lee's drifting, tin-cup vocals provide both contrast and complement to Klein's thistled singing and her violin and ukulele skills leaven the mix further.

Annie Crawford, a classically-trained violinist with E. European influence has a sound that is alternately plaintive, pastoral, and brooding. Using traditional and aluminum-horned violins (Stroviols), she threads through fine and coarse textures.

Multi-instrumentalist Michael Billmire contributes a textural range of sound; delicate harp runs, open-air accordion swells, and gliding silver-trumpet melodies.

Orpheum Bell will be featured in several regional concert series and festival events in '10 and are expanding their touring throughout the Midwest. Most recently their track 'Goodbye is the Sweetest Word' ('Pearls' '09) was selected for the soundtrack of the art documentary 'The Life of Chris Roberts-Antieau' by Brookbank Productions (www.brookbankproductions.com). The Film will be released in the summer of 2010, and will be featured at Baltimore's American Visionary Art Museum (www.avam.org). By Fall of 2011 Orpheum Bell plans on releasing it's third full-length recording.