By Ellie Wilkinson
The orchestra begins its overture — strings soar, drums rumble, and brass trumpet in a triumphant chord. Then, as the notes fade, a guitar humbly comes forward, and Kris Orlowski’s trademark troubadour drawl begins its song, underscored by the orchestra’s playful flutes and gentle violins.
The unique interplay between orchestra and folk rock in Orlowski’s “All My People Go,” as well as the other four songs on the Seattle singer-songwriter’s newest EP, The Pieces We Are, springs from his partnership with the up-and-coming composer and violinist, Andrew Joslyn. The new album, released Oct. 16, is something wonderful and strange, a kaleidoscopic mishmash of musical genres that you wouldn’t expect to settle together in such a comfortable fit.
But they do — and not only do they cooperate, they complement. Joslyn’s 17-piece orchestra brings the sound of Orlowski’s band to new heights and depths, transforming their light, folk pop sound into a symphony. These musicians’ partnership underscores the significance of Orlowski’s EP title, showing how small contributions can make something unique and special—and wholly larger than the pieces that come together to form it.
Stripped of the orchestra, “All My People Go” could stand alone as a thoughtful, slightly melancholy folk song. Joslyn’s addition of strings, woodwinds, and horns boosts the song to a higher level, adding layers of meaning, such as when flutes delicately highlight Orlowski’s visions of “travers[ing] through fabled lands” in the first verse and the “skyways above” in the bridge. The energetic strings and horn add motion to Orlowski’s lyrics and, more than that, change the message so that “All My People Go” becomes a powerful urge to take action and “live beyond the labels we have won,” rather than a lament that these labels have overpowered us.
But in “Cables,” the orchestra acts as Orlowski’s foil with its ironically trilling, baroque-style opening, jarring in contrast to Orlowski’s darker lyrics, delivered in sing-songy rhythm and rhyme: “the scramble was caused by a screw left dislodged/ the cables could no longer mend/ amble was paused by fool at a loss/ the crisis that signaled an end.”
Similarly, the playful plucking of the strings in “In Between Days” adds lighthearted accompaniment to Orlowski’s jaded drawling, and the violin solo melody — like an orchestral version of a folk fiddle solo — adds interest to what would otherwise be a soft folk cover of The Cure’s song. The strings take prominent roles in “I Will Go,” as well, adding bittersweet tension to Orlowski’s keening, “I will go/ won’t you stay/ I will go/ please, please stay.”
As in “All My People Go,” Joslyn and the orchestra raise “Mountains” up from its humble, rather mournful folk tune, elevating it to stand for something larger and more universal. The strings’ plucking up and down the treble clef and the woodwinds’ soaring and dipping notes figuratively illustrate the song’s title, adding depth to the melody. Later, these instruments add grandeur and strength in the final chorus: “We sing to the mountains / sing to be free / free from reactions / towards lies chased, discovering where we belong.” Joined together at the end, Orlowski’s band and Joslyn’s orchestra pay tribute to the album’s title, illustrating how we all belong to the whole, and by bringing the pieces that we are together, we can create something beyond any one of us.