with Tony Porreco
Who: M.H. & His Orchestra
Where: Velvet Lounge
When: Friday Feb. 15th
Song You Must Hear Today: “Cobblestone”
Here’s an embarrassing story for you: When I was in the 2nd grade, my P.E. teacher invited a local Jazzercise instructor in to do a couple of sessions with us kids. (I can only speculate as to why.) Anyway, after the first session, I approached the teacher, and asked if I could pick the music next time. “Of course!”, she said.
So at gym class the next week, I proudly presented the Jazzercise lady a tape of some of my favorite songs I’d recorded off the radio. She put it in the boombox, lined us up for a “work out”, and pressed play. The first song was Green Day’s “Basket Case”. After about 15 seconds, she halted the tape, took me aside, and gently explained to me how “There are two kinds of music: The kind you dance to, and the kind you listen to”, and how I had brought in the latter kind. She then popped in a tape stuffed with ‘80s dance pop, and I half-heartedly went through the motions of Jazzercise, feeling so embarrassed that upon landing my very first DJ set, I’d spun the wrong tracks.
There are still moments at shows standing amidst the throngs of stationery concert-goers where I’m a little self-conscious about being a rock fan. The genre has long since lost its association as de facto party music, and understandably so: Generally, you just can’t shake it to a punk or post-rock number the way you can with R&B or electronic.
Which brings us to the music of M.H. & His Orchestra, who are playing an all together different kind of party music. Rather, their work is styled not in the contemporary traditions of rock and pop, but instead in the older template of a melodramatic crooner (in this instance, singer/composer Max Holiday [“M.H.”]) backed by an orchestra providing rich, expressive arrangements.
So in some respects, yes, this resembles the music of your grandparents’ youth, but there’s more to it than that. The group’s debut album The Throes (available for download at their Bandcamp, $8) was recorded with an astonishing 44 member orchestra: When you’ve got an ensemble that large, you’re really capable of playing just about any style of music you want, and main man M.H. makes effective use of the wide array of musical talent on hand (broad assortments of string, brass, and woodwind players, among others) to effortlessly hop from one unexpected genre to the next.
And really, there’s so much ground covered here, ranging from Latin/Calypso, oompah brass music, and even touches of big beat R&B. Opening track “Cobblestone” begins with a straightforward electric piano that’s soon joined by old time-y upright bass and Latin percussion, only to be followed by the surprise of a glitchy R&B drum machine alongside a horn section.
Now, that’s a lot to put down, especially about the first thirty seconds of an album, but that’s M.H. & His Orchestra: The trappings of half a dozen musical genres, laced with M.H.’s throaty, drama-filled vocal performances that remind me more than a little of Roy Orbison.
Sonic descriptions aside, it’s really the playful, booty-shakin’ rhythms that truly distinguish M.H. & His Orchestra from other more austere, cerebral orchestral/chamber pop. Often, the songs are grounded in a carefree Latin or Calypso beat, lending the endeavor a welcome tropical buoyancy. Really, I just want to post up in a deck chair, order a banana daiquiri, and watch this band do their thing.
The stripped down, 11-piece touring version of M.H. & His Orchestra are performing this Friday at Velvet Lounge as part of a Mardi Gras-themed fundraiser event for Cosmic Campout, which is a three-day music and art going into its second year. Opening acts include Vasudeva (arty alt prog) and Dr. Robinson’s Fiasco (moody alt duo). It’s gonna be crazy fun.