Valerie Orth – Fires and Overturned Cars
Valerie Orth started wowing music fans about a decade ago, receiving great acclaim in the Bay Area before moving from San Francisco to Brooklyn along with her longtime bassist Veronika Adams in 2013.
I’m not sure how I first discovered Valerie’s music, but for the last several months I’ve been enjoying her most recent album, Fires and Overturned Cars. Released two years ago (with individual, handmade covers, no less!), the album is a compilation of old favorites, new singles, and B-sides. Of course, I am just rediscovering the top independent musicians whose careers developed during my long hiatus from music journalism, so the songs are all new to me.
Album Review of Valerie Orth: Fires and Overturned Cars
Valerie Orth is a singer-songwriter/rock guitarist. Fires and Overturned Cars showcases her broad range, often featuring elements of mid-tempo, sometimes psychedelic, indie rock with emotional, at-times soulful vocals, wrapped up in songs that, while they seem based on semi-catchy pop-rock songwriting instincts, emphatically refuse to sound formulaic.
Album-opener “Uh Oh” is the song that first attracted me. It’s memorable with a pulsing, not-quite-reggae rock rhythm. It’s a fitting introduction to the way Valerie’s vocals wander purposefully within the melody. If I were a coach on The Voice (or a color commentator on Monday Night Football), I’d say she moves around well in the pocket. Meanwhile, the rap breakdown in “Uh Oh” reminds me of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise.” You know, just for kicks. As becomes evident throughout Fires and Overturned Cars, Valerie deftly incorporates various styles into her trademark sound.
“Life on the Moon” compares sonically to David Cook’s song of the same name, though it’s otherwise quite different. Valerie’s version has a bit more wall-of-sound psychedelic flavor and sweet, crisp vocals compared to David’s more straight-ahead rock riffs and gruffer vocals. Still interesting that two songs with the same title have similar enough powerful rises and falls to elicit a comparable emotional reaction, at least from me.
“Still Something on the Line” has the insistent wail, let-up, and catchy melody that immediately reminds the listener of one of Liz Phair’s pop-rock radio-ready tunes. The result is an exceptionally memorable tune; in fact, this may be my favorite song in this collection.
Elsewhere on the album, Valerie blends and bends other styles – and the artists they remind me of – to her will. “Relinquish” mixes in some Stevie Nicks vocal flourishes with reggae-influenced choruses. “Devotion” utilizes Deuce Eclipse’s sway-worthy, well-placed, rhythmic rap segments well among reggae-influenced rhythms, while the line “you give to me/I give to you” reminds me, solely in the rhythm of the lyrics’ delivery, a bit of Jason Mraz’s line “you got the poison/I got the remedy.” “Keeps Coming Back,” meanwhile, kicks off with a dark heavy metal rhythm and maintains a heavy rock ballad darkness throughout, fitting to its thoughtful, self-assessing lyrics. And “Beyond This Song” is more of a straight-up, blues rock ballad in which Valerie’s vocals exhibit full blues-singer gravel.
Finally, some of the softer tracks have breakout potential, as ballads often do. “Blinding” is a bit of a psychedelic, sound-filled ballad, while “Maribel” is a sensitive guitar-picker that is reminiscent of how Dido’s vocal rhythm might sound in a Stevie Nicks ballad. And album-ender “I Forgive You” delivers sweet vocals in perhaps the most standard pop-rock ballad of the bunch, though Valerie’s vocal rhythm, moving around within the melody, brands it as a song that can uniquely only be hers.
Throughout Fires and Overturned Cars, the music, rhythm, vocals, and songwriting incorporate a variety of styles, all the while sounding clearly and cohesively like a Valerie Orth album. How cool is that?
Valerie has taken the last couple of years retooling her sound a bit, and I look forward to hearing what she has in store for listeners in 2016.
At the moment, the only gig on her itinerary is June 15, 2016 – a tribute to Fiona Apple at Rockwood Music Hall in NYC. Keep an eye on the tour page of her website for additional dates as they’re added.