Ever since a copy of Adrian Orange and Her Band showed up in my mailbox last month, toeing its infectious Nigeria-via-Olympia horn lines, I've spent a significant amount of time trying to puzzle out the meaning of the album's title. Though it is by no means the only perplexing choice that Mr. Orange—a startlingly prodigious artist with 10 full-lengths of mostly unornamented solo guitar-and-voice material under his belt at only 21 years of age—has made over the course of his musical career, I was really having a hard time with this one. Why, other than for reasons of self-sabotage, would Orange, a rising star and native son of the Portland music community, heralded by both Dirty Projectors' Dave Longstreth and Microphones' Phil Elverum (who also engineered the record) as one of the greatest songwriters of our time, rename his project just as it was becoming known? He did this not once (the first time in 2006, switching from the moniker Thanksgiving to Adrian Orange), not twice (the second time from Adrian Orange to Adrian Orange and the Child Slave Rebellion), but thrice, now performing and recording under the name Adrian Orange and Her Band, as per the new eponymous K Records-released album.
Despite my confusion, I was all the while rejoicing that Orange had finally made the energetic, brass-rich, Afro beat-influenced, large-ensemble record that I had hoped for, but not dared to expect, since seeing him perform in that mode last summer. And then, of course, I grasped the obvious; this is fundamentally an album not just by Orange, whose wild, bleating vocals and lyrical interest in the sanctity of the mundane still stand front-and-center, but an album by Orange and his band. And what a band it is, populated by Northwest all-stars like Old Time Relijun's Ben Hartman on sax, Evolutionary Jass Band's Jesse Johnson on trumpet, and Olympia godfather Calvin Johnson pitching in on vocals and kettledrum. Rather than obscuring the wonderfully unpolished idiosyncrasies of Orange's stark musical vision, the expanded instrumentation and backup choir shine a light that brings out the charm of their unique contours all the more. The band lets Adrian be Adrian.
As for the gender ambiguity, well, I haven't quite figured that one out yet. Asking Adrian Orange himself about "her" band yielded the following response: "I'm not sure whether it's because I am a transsexual or the Goddess rules the band. Either way I am cool with it." Yeah, he's a weird guy, but that's part of the appeal. See for yourself on Friday, September 21 at the Artistery as he celebrates the release of Adrian Orange and Her Band with the Watery Graves' Davis Hooker, and K colleagues C.O.C.O.