Review of “Orchids and Violence” by Michael Daves

Flowers are all about sex and orchids may be the most sensually exotic of the lot, so the title of Michael Daves’ new album might as well be “Sex and Violence.” It is, instead, Orchids and Violence and the inner jacket features a lavish illustration of blossoms surrounding a brace of lethal looking snakes. The music itself smells of the Appalachian mountains, funneled through contemporary Brooklyn with hardly a whiff of added gentrification. Talented sidemen include Sarah Jarosz on mandolin and Noam Pikelny on banjo. Daves himself plays rhythm and flat-picked guitar with an unrestrained, occasionally violent touch—if touch is not too sensitive a term. His voice has the same full throttle, blow-out-the-carbon enthusiasm as his playing. If there is any nostalgia present (and there always is in any bluegrass/old-time musical outing) it’s for the steamy violence of a honky tonk Saturday night in Breece Pancake country.

The picking is first rate throughout—banjoist Pikelny recalls Tony Trischka in his dexterous creativity (“Elzic’s Farewell”) and Trishka himself makes a cameo appearance (“Darkling Corey”) on cello banjo, a deep voiced, archaic banjo recently revived by the Goldtone company. There are some good old honky tonk weepers here, too, like “A Good Year for the Roses,” with Daves beating out rhythm and stretching his vowels in Steve Earle fashion. Mike Bub drives the rhythm on double bass and the long drawn notes of Brittany Hass’ whining fiddle are a constant presence.

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“A Good Year for the Roses”

This old-time/bluegrass/honky tonk blend was recorded in the Old First Reformed Church in Brooklyn, with some financial backing from HVBA. And did I mention there’s a second disc included? It’s an electric side containing amplified versions of the same twelve songs that appear on “Disc 1: Bluegrass.“ I could review that as well, but my managing editor said to wait and see if electric instruments catch on with the broader public first.

Nonesuch Records

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