A few months back, Kris Orlowski sent over his video of “Your Move” filmed live with the Passenger String Quartet and eight other local artists including Matt Gervais of Curtains for You, Tony Kevin Jr., and Noah Gundersen for an EP entitled The Abbey. Interviews were conducted, shows were promoted, Orlowski was an instant SSG Music sweetheart.
Just last week, Orlowski released another video from The Abbey. He sent it over along with a snippet from our last round of conversations quoting me as saying “I’m c-r-ushing on your video. Your voice is like butter–the good kind; the extra that you don’t need to add to your brownies but you do it anyway because it’s going to taste that good. Yes.” As horrified I am to admit that Paula Dean inspired a metaphor of mine, it’s a key part of chronology in this story. I do indeed think Kris Orlowski has a milky, buttery voice, and the accompaniment he had for this video was top-notch.
“Waltz of Petunia” is another beautiful recording. I didn’t notice upon first listen that it has bass and drums whereas the video for “Your Move” does not. Either way, “Waltz of Petunia” is perfect as it is. I remembered that I hadn’t downloaded The Abbey and requested another link. When I got the files, I was disappointed to find that the EP recording of “Your Move” is not the same recording as the video. It’s a studio version including drums and bass along with the Passenger String Quartet and choir of singers. The rawness of the song was lost, and the stark tightness brought a variation of the milky, buttery aesthetic that was expected, cheese. Instead of being able to focus what makes Orlowski unique (his diction, warmth, and charisma), he was starting to sound like a poor man’s version of Michael Buble (mainstream, bland, generic).
What had changed? Since we’re already talking about food, allow me to illustrate: let’s say you’re dealing with a novelty meat such as pancetta (Italian, salt cured bacon). You’re featuring it in an arugula salad with a crumble of blue cheese, thinly sliced pears, candied walnuts, and a lemon vinaigrette. Perfection, right? What if you then add ranch dressing, garbanzo beans, green bell peppers, bacon bits, pepperoni, black olives, pickles, jalapeños, hard-boiled eggs, and crotons? You just turned a novelty salad into Old Country Kitchen buffet, and what the hell happened to the pancetta?
To a lesser effect, that’s what we have with Kris Orlowski and a full band. Friday night he showcased his music at the Columbia City Theater with bass, a full drum kit, piano, backup vocals, and a lead guitar player. There wasn’t much to point to as outstanding, but it all sounded…good; very good even, but good is the key word.
The old adage “don’t speak unless you can improve the silence” can be applied here. Every singer/songwriter doesn’t need a band to make them legit. In the case of Orlowski’s show on Friday if the string quartet was not on hand, the additional keys and backup vocals would have been enough to accentuate his uniqueness and add depth of sound without muddying up what makes him amazing. It’s not about how many people are or aren’t playing with you; it’s about nurturing what makes each act unique and not falling victim to the perceived status quo.
After Kris Orlowski fished for my reaction and I replied with a “Thanks for the show,” he said, “I enjoyed the fangirl crush while it lasted!” Fangirl crushes come and go, but I’d likely come back around for more Orlowski if the lyrics in “Your Move” held true, “I’m doing this on my own/ I’m doing this alone.”