The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Bill Orcutt
A History Of Every One Andrew Spragg , October 14th, 2013 08:14

Bill Orcutt's rather fast and loose approach to covering other people's songs was first indicated on A New Way To Pay Old Debts, where the listener was treated to a robustly un-like version of Lightnin' Hopkins' 'Sad News From Korea'. Though one was hard placed to recognise the original's melody under Orcutt's liberal interpretation, there was something that definitively caught the source's spirit in the guitarist's grit and attack. In one sense then, A History Of Every One should come as no major surprise. An album of 'covers', each track draws its title – at the very least – from a popular tune. There is 'Zip A Dee Doo Dah' and 'White Christmas', though it would be remiss to suggest that either risked accusations of copyright infringement.

What Orcutt has turned out is a set of singular improvisations, demonstrations of a dedicated technique that he developed back as electric guitarist for Harry Pussy. This year's earlier release of a collaborative LP with Chris Corsano (The Raw & The Cooked) had suggested a working back towards experimentation with amplification and feedback, but A History Of Every One sees a return to solo acoustic guitar, unadorned except for the musician's wordless singing.

One notable difference between A History Of Every One and previous Orcutt albums is the intimacy of the recording. A New Way To Pay Old Debts saw the use of a pick-up to boost the sound to near-distortion, while How The Thing Sings was skeletal, drawing out the spatial dynamics. A History Of Every One deposits its listener right up close, and seemingly the improvisations are adapted to take that into account. There's less stinging attack than before, instead softer contrasts develop between the fluency of Orcutt's runs and their spasmodic and faltering halts. One thing that is striking about the guitarist's approach is the drawing out of error, intentional or otherwise, deliberately foregrounding a set of tics that become as crucial as the moments of technical accomplishment.

Whatever departure is taken from the original tune becomes an avenue for exploration, a stepping into the possibilities of arrangement and re-arrangement. It is telling that so many of the songs contained on A History Of Every One purport to be traditional spirituals, folk and minstrel songs. It is as if Orcutt's source material is toward so hot for him to touch, too loaded with spectres of historical trauma. At this juncture it is worth pausing to remember that Orcutt's singing is unmoored entirely from language, a combination of hums and yelps, like one registering a hurt that surpasses vocabulary.

There is a tenderness to A History Of Every One, no more evident than in Orcutt's rendition of 'Spanish is the Loving Tongue'. Its tone and delivery is elegiac, comparatively straightforward, and it feels for all the world like a clock chiming time in the late night. Whatever A History Of Every One has to offer is contained right there, in that faltering and delicate moment.