Odd back-story for this one – guitarist Bill Orcutt of 90s noise legends Harry Pussy returns to performing a decade later with solo acoustic records. But fret not, ye screamers and bashers, because the new act is not a toothless evangelization. Orcutt’s four-string forays are just as incisive and insightful without the distortion, and A History of Every One is a modernist fracturing of America’s musical psyche through free-time improvisation and re-harmonization.
His source material, mined from our collective milieu, can seem sardonically assembled at times. There are three Disney songs (including my boyhood tape favorite “Ballad of Davy Crockett”), golden age ballads, and even a Harvard fight song. There are also some nods to blues greats Leadbelly, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Blind Lemon Jefferson. But ultimately Orcutt doesn’t draw heavily on these songs – this collection certainly does not conform to the expectations of a “cover” – he uses them as the phantom context for his own commentary and creation.
Sure, sometimes he half-vocalizes the original melodies, hovering behind his virtuoso playing like a front porch Glenn Gould. But these pieces are all primarily departures, deconstructing the formal language of the songs and laying them out on an equal plane to be reassembled and rearranged at his whim. Importantly beyond the technical artistry, Orcutt knows that the titles start a musical exposition rolling in our heads before he ever strikes a string – that at times you will catch yourself trying to “sing along”. In this way, Orcutt plays with our memory as much as he manipulates any particular melody or chord progression.