To be honest, I was a bit sceptical when I received the album Orfeas by Judge Smith. Firstly, he's one of the founders of Van Der Graaf Generator and I'm not a huge fan of that band, and secondly I had no idea what to expect from a songstory, since I thought it would be just another concept album. However, I got the wrong end of the stick. When I started to listen to the album, my scepticism disappeared as snow under a hot sun and instead a big smile appeared on my face. The concept of a songstory is like watching a movie: someone tells the story, there's a lot of narration and conversation and a variety of musical styles, but in a special way. I'll tell you more about that later.
The adventures of George Orfeas have been built upon the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus, but transcribed to the current age. The main character loses his precious guitar and after an accident he ends up in the underworld. There he finds out that everything he did was given to him by his muse. After his returning to life, George was told to never look back and just proceed with his life. After a slightly unsuccessful second step in his career, he gets the chance to play at a big festival, but he has to play the old songs. In the end he's unable to play in a proper way and gets sacrificed by the next band on stage and in silence he retires from the music scene.
The music on this impressive album is very varied, but a warning to the listener is in place now. You have to listen to the entire album in one piece with the lyrics close at hand; headphones are preferred. Musically the pieces about the bard gave me the feeling of a kind of a comedy act, like Tenacious D. Other parts, like the live performances of the George Orfeas Band, are very strong compositions of instrumental rock wherein the leading guitars are supported by a screaming sax. During George's descent to hell, this place was impersonated by a form of house and trance music, while a lighter form of death metal impersonated the Lord of Darkness. The parts I had to return to are the narrated ones, wherein Smith created something unique. All the spoken parts are more or less sung and doubled by either a string ensemble or other various instruments, which give that very special sound to the narration. I must give special credits to the musicians that have a great contribution on the album like the impressive guitar playing of John Ellis, saxophonist David Jackson, multi-instrumentalist David Minnick and singers Lene Lovich, David Shaw-Parker and René Van Commenee.
At the end of the story he tries to incorporate an MC into his music. I think Judge Smith wanted to make something clear. As far as progressive rock is concerned, you should have an open mind for new elements in the music trying to use them in a positive way for your own music instead of sticking to the music of the past.
As I said before this album was a very pleasant surprise with great playing and good entertainment. However, you have to take the time to listen to the album. You shouldn't listen to this music while cleaning the house, because you have to stay focussed all the time. Therefore it's an album for special occasions.
***+ Pedro Bekkers (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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