Monday 23 November 2020

Orianthi - O (2020)

Country: Australia
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 6 Nov 2020
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Australian guitarist Orianthi is back with a new album, this one a solo effort to follow a collaboration with Richie Sambora known as RSO, and I was eager to see how diverse it got. After all, she jammed on stage with Carlos Santana at eighteen and moved on to work in multiple genres, playing the Grammy Awards with Carrie Underwood, performing in Michael Jackson's This is It show and touring with Alice Cooper for a few years. This ought to be interesting!

And that it is. While it's often heavy, with searing solos over solid riffs, and it features soul, funk, pop and other genres on top of a hard rock base, the overriding feeling I got was alternative rock. In fact, I often got a Sheryl Crow vibe, that stripped down melodic rock mindset from her Tuesday Night Music Club days, but often half buried under a few layers of amped up power and digital programming, like Crow jamming with Lenny Kravitz.

If I'm reading this properly, there are only three musicians involved: Orianthi herself, on both guitar and vocals, plus some of the programming, and a couple of brothers called Evan & Marti Frederiksen. The former handles bass and drums, while the latter plays percussion and handles the programming that Orianthi doesn't do herself. You might imagine quite the electronic album from that, but this is definitely rooted in rock, however jazzed up it might get with decoration.

That decoration may make or break this for a lot of people, of course, but the more open minded will get a blast out of this. Contagious is emphatic, with an incessant rhythm assault, Orianthi in a full on Steve Vai mode and even some Dio-era Rainbow vocal changes. It knows how exactly how to groove.

And this album carries on in reasonably similar vein for a while from there, those effects and rhythms changing, the funk or soul creeping in and out and the odd influences shifting up constantly. Sinners Hymn starts to hint at Hendrix before suddenly taking a left turn into pop territory instead, ahead of the crunch kicking back in. Impulsive is a glam rock anthem. Rescue Me is the most overt Sheryl Crow number, but there's R&B in that voice too, powerfully so. It's clear from the far quieter, Adele-esque song, Crawling Out of the Dark, that Orianthi's mad guitar skills apart, her voice could have made her a name in this industry on its own.

It's weird to listen to a song like Rescue Me, realising that, with a wildly different approach, it could have become a dancefloor hit but instead went for a song that mixes up Adele with Eddie Van Halen. It really is a good weird though, even if I could see someone covering this on a talent show because it allows them to showcase their voice but also go wild with emphasis to win over the audience. Sorry is the same sort of song without quite as much oomph. Moonwalker is clearly a homage to Jackson and it has a quirky beat that it's easy to see him dancing to.

I was looking for diversity in genre and I found that, albeit not to the degree that I expected. What I ended up being surprised by was the way in which Orianthi's guitar is used to such broad effect. Even on the poppier songs, she rocks out at some point with a solo because, as confident she is as a singer, she's a guitarist first and foremost. But it gradually became clear to me that many of the effects that I initially thought were programming tricks are her doing interesting things with her guitar. Steve Vai casts a long shadow over this album and I'm almost more impressed by her textures and effects than I am her excellent solos.

And that makes this a deep album that rewards further listens. Frankly, the people who pick this up in expectation of an Alice Cooper album or a Richie Sambora album are likely to put it back down again pretty quickly. It's the people open to something rooted in decades of genres but very contemporary in its approach who will listen again and again and find new things in the music as they do so. This is going to seriously grow.

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