I used to put on open mics at back in 2006. We saw a lot of great talent come through, but one of the more memorable performances was from Kris Orlowski. Kris captured our attention because he has a natural charisma that takes you in and captures all your senses. At that first gig back in 2006 every wanna-be musician (including myself) asked if they could open for him someday. The good thing for me was that I was in the concert organization business, so I could choose the lineup. So who do you think I chose for the Kris’s opening act? Yep, my band, twice. It was an awesome experience to open for him and I hope the opportunity comes up again someday.
At the time he sounded very much like John Mayer did back then. I like Mayer, but Mayer should be Mayer and everyone else should be themselves. Since then, Kris has found his own unique voice like Dylan or Cash – you just know it is them when you hear one of their tunes. Now when I hear Kris I know it’s him. Whether I’m at the gym or the grocery store I hear his voice on the radio and say to myself…hey that’s Kris. There’s this great quote from Glen Hansard (skip ahead to 5:05) that applies to Kris…“You don’t really earn your voice until at least your mid-thirties…if you are a singer you are kind of copying all the way through your whole life and then at some point you get a voice…if you’re good…and if serve your music correctly”. I don’t know how old Kris is, but the point is that he has served his music and has earned his voice.
Every musician, especially a busker, has to copy to get started. The biggest risk for musicians early in their career is that they fall into the trap of sounding “just like” another musician. It’s nice when someone says you sound like someone else, but it’s better to be “compared” to other musicians based on their talent, not sound. I believe that Kris recognized this early on and has worked very hard to develop his own sound….one of the hardest things to do as a musician.
Kris is literally one of the hardest working musicians I’ve ever known…constantly writing, recording and performing in endless band configurations. I’ve seen him do small café gigs to huge festivals…I’m not sure how many dates he’s played, but I’m guessing at least 100 a year. He has a true commitment to his music.
Kris’s latest album is with Andrew Joslyn, the Seattle based composer, orchestrator and violinist. It’s a 5 song EP that was released yesterday called Pieces We Are, and it is already #13 on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter charts.
The first thing I was blown away by was the sound quality. When the strings come in at the top of All My People Go my first thought was…man I just played the wrong album because I hadn’t heard such amazing orchestration and sound quality from Kris before. I double checked and indeed I was playing the right album. Kris has really stepped it up with this release in so many ways.
The second thing I noticed was Kris’s voice has really matured. Back in 2006 he mostly used his chest voice, which is beautiful, but now I can hear him using his full voice. His head voice is very strong, accurate and emotive. You can hear what I mean at 2:33 of All My People Go or 0:51 in I Will Go. Quite beautiful. Similar to what Bon Iver would do, but not a copy, you still hear Kris’s rich timbre.
You don’t hear enough poetry in today’s music. It’s mostly psycho-babble, but it’s different with Kris. There’s an urgency…a sense of wandering…seeking…a journey…a hope…in his words. There’s meat in there that you can think on. Just listen to Mountains.
Another thing that is missing from today’s music is tension and release, which to me is the core of composition. For music to be satisfying to me it has to have tension, but that tension has to be released. Musicians have so many tools to do so, from volume to intensity to tonality to instrumentation. My desire for tension and release is 100% satisfied with this album. I’m brought into so many different places in every tune. It is creative, unique, imaginative…memorable.
Partnering with Andrew Joslyn was a great call. Kris has great songwriting chops and they are complemented by Andrew’s orchestration and string chops. Really a great pair. I really hope they keep working together and hope they bring this sound to the stage.
The cool thing is that listening to this album makes me want to hear what Kris has in store for his next album. I know it will be beautiful, different and even better than yesterday’s release.