Arriving some three years after their debut album release, Assorted Creams, which had already taken almost three years to come to fruition, Humblin (Across America) only took a relatively brisk eighteen months gestation from recording to release. And frankly I hope that's the absolute longest I have to wait for the next instalment.
The core line-up of the band, principal songwriter Darryl Mather (ex-Lime Spiders and Someloves), fellow Australian Anthony Bautovich (Coronet Blue), Mitch Easter (ex-Lets Active and renowned producer of, amongst others, Pavement and early REM) and finally Ken Stringfellow (Posies and a bewildering number of other frequently simultaneously active projects) survives intact from their debut album.
Mostly recorded at the celebrated Ardent Recording Studios in Memphis, a host of legendary southern musical figures have been enlisted in support. Occupying the drum stool throughout is Jody Stephens (ex-Big Star, Golden Smog), no doubt feeling at home as all three classic Big Star albums were recorded here. Jim Dickinson guests on piano on the album's pensive opener, Vineyard Blues, whilst Spooner Oldham, half of one of the classic songwriting partnerships with Dan Penn, plays organ and piano on several other tracks. Featuring, as on Assorted Creams, a blend of power pop, rock and country, Humblin (Across America) has the added ingredient this time of more than a little southern soul, several tracks, What's Your Crime and the single Any Way You Want It amongst them, wonderfully enhanced by bold brass arrangements.
Ken Stringfellow handles all vocals throughout and has quite simply never sounded better than he does here, exuding emotion with strength, depth and clarity. Apparently he was quite impressed with the results himself, so much so in fact that he purchased the microphone used on the recordings.
Featuring stunning arrangements, wonderful chord changes, to die for tunes, ringing guitars (Mitch Easter in fine form), fluid pedal steel lines and a horn section to boot, this album really has the lot. Thirteen songs and two short instrumentals encompassing the euphoria of Annie Run Run Run, the introspection of Can You Imagine and the pristine pop of Freewheelin', Humblin (Across America) emphatically hits the paydirt strongly hinted at by its predecessor Assorted Creams. Recorded by a genuinely stellar line-up of musicians and enriched by the location of the recording and its musical heritage, The Orange Humble Band have crafted such a wonderful album that perhaps the core members of this part-time band ought to strongly reconsider their musical priorities. A classic. - (Geraint Jones January 2001)
The Orange Humble Band: Humblin' (Across America)
Reading the names on the sleeve of this lovingly crafted collection of soulful pop-rock is like reading a map of the genre (Memphis Division). Australian Darryl Mather pursued his love for melodic rock in his late 80s band The Someloves, and from there his journey has taken him to one of the sources of his inspiration in Memphis.
This is the OHB's second album, with a line-up including Mitch Easter (producer of some of REM's early classics and The Someloves and member of Let's Active), singer Ken Stringfellow of The Posies and drummer Jody Stephens of 70s power-pop legends Big Star. Most of the album was completed at the Ardent Studios in Memphis, where Stephens had worked on those seminal albums with Big Star almost 30 years ago. Of course, the antecedents of this music go back even further than that, via The Byrds and Badfinger to the richly varied melodies of The Beatles of Rubber Soul and Revolver.
But the point about Humblin' (Across America) is that this is not just some fan's reconstruction but the real thing. The opening cut, Vineyard Blues, is a killer, with Stringfellow's vocals recalling Donovan at his finest. And it doesn't let up from there, whether it is soulful and brassy on the soaring What's Your Crime, jangling power-pop on Skyway Believin' or just the hint of country-rock on Better Just Fake It. Mather contributes the lyrics and guitarists Easter and Anthony Bautovich co-write the music with him, but it is Stringfellow who really makes the album soar. It might be his best-ever vocal performance. Certainly, Stringfellow was so impressed with the results he bought the microphone from Ardent to take home to his studio. - (Noel Mengel, Courier Mail, Brisbane February 2001)