The Orchestra of the Dessert, Orquesta del Desierto, is an interesting addition to the rock fusion genre. The raspy vocals of Pete Stahl conjure images of dusty roads and sweaty Mexican border bars. Escaping the singer-songwriter sound, they have woven jazz and Spanish horn stylizings as well as groove-based chord arrangements in a lyrically-driven rock fabric.
Shadow Stealing tries to come out of the gates running. Its engineering does not let the song have the punch its first bars should create, the guitars and bass mixed flatly and lost in a backdrop to anxious vocals. This is very apparent when the horns punch in. A standout on the album I can only fault it for being a toe-tapper that should be a foot stomper. After the Blue is where ODD is most successful with crafting hypnotic, driving grooves that seem float along at a good pace. The mix of guitar, bass, and rhythm counterpoints blend into a solid backdrop for the vocals that match the tone and feel skillfully.
Waiting for the Star to Fall is where they come up short at this. A sweetly droning piece that begs vocals sweeter, or perhaps more pained, than Stahl's. A tune with a lot of potential, its attempt at a hypnotic groove muddies and plods. Make Fun is very reminiscent of the Pretenders. Straight rock chords and rhythms that never let themselves become typical. Surely a bar favorite. Globalist Dreams is not one of the album's stronger tracks. A preachy offering that attempts to be a noise-and-chaos-wall-of-sound-type that is rarely ever pulled off by a band with a non-arena rock sound. The engineering of the album does not allow that level of rock punch.
For classic acid rock style check From This View. It plays more like a Pearl Jam UnPlugged MTV special than Hendrix in its sound. It reaches for a blues sound, but lacks a dirty edge. Smooth Slim would be the best offering on the album except its reliance on synth incidental drums and a front-heavy mix loses the parts that carry the listener through the groove. Similar to the Allman Brothers on Summer afternoon, its fresh and airy without being light and lacking substance. Alicia's Song easily rounds out the compilation as the best song on it. A song that is definitely close to the singer's heart, you can hear him work to be purposefully delicate and sweet. Well, as delicate and sweet as his roadhouse rock and roll rasp will let him, which is what makes it sweet.
Orquesta del Desierto is on the right track with their self-titled offering. Not an overly strong album, but few weaknesses can be mentioned. The songwriting and musicianship is strong and at times has a punch that can throw its fist in the air and shout "Rock!" without sounding pretentious. Stronger work on crafting their sound, broadening it in some places, roughing it up in others, will let these songs emerge fully formed from their cocoon. My guess is that live, these songs lack little to nothing. Some songs vocally sound more polished than others. This always straightens out after they've been played a few hundred times.
The biggest detractor of the album is the mix. Rock fusion relies more on bass to hold it all together and drive the divergent sounds than on any other sound. And where I can hear interesting and driving bass lines trying to peek through from somewhere down below, they are too often treated as a low priority in the mix. Without a mix where the bass line anchors, the dancing guitars balance precariously on the complex rhythms, causing moments where I felt like I was skateboarding down a hill backwards
I was tempted to EQ the bass higher (I listen to all albums for review with flat EQ to let the engineering choices stand out), but opted against it. I will do so after this is reviewed. I like the album, but dislike the mix. Its a singer-songwriter McMix that does bands like this no justice. And it puts the raspy vocals far too the forefront when they should be right in the middle of it. For this band is a sum of its parts, not an expanded backup sound based on acoustic works.
On further listenings I like Waiting for the Stars to Fall much more than I did originally. This song should be deeper in the album for us Dessert Orchestra newcomers. It is similar to From Good Homes in its loose collaborative approach that floats above the typical. I can't think of a better way to describe Orquesta del Desierto's work.
Post: Meteor City Records, PO Box 40322, Albuquerque, NM, 87196, USA