When maestro mandolin player and songwriter Jayke Orvis left the .357 String Band, some heavy metal transplants were screeching that he took all of their grittiness, guts, and anger with him. Taking that theory to its natural conclusion, I guess a few were expecting his solo project to be some sort of bloodletting ritual that would summon the mandolin Mephistopheles to harvest our souls in a moment of death metal ecstasy. Unfortunately they will have to settle for great songwriting, and superb arrangement fleshed out by a mouth-watering assemblage of country superpickers.
If I got a bug to make an album and could put together a dream list of people to help me, James Hunnicutt (Wayne Hancock, The Revolvers, to many others to list) would be at the top for lead guitar. “Banjer” Dan Mazer would be there as well. Then take the other traveling members of JB Beverley & The Wayward Drifters and Old-Timey Avery from Jayke’s current band The Goddamn Gallows, and you’ve got a comic book-style supergroup assembled ready to fight crime. Well, more like supervillans ready to make it.
First and foremost, It’s All Been Said is a country album. There’s some bluegrass and some of the gothic feel at times, but this is a singer/songwriter album straddling the mid-tempo and exploring traditional country themes. This doesn’t mean there’s no energy and attitude; on the contrary. If years down the road underground country dries up and we all move on to become heroin addicts listening to fusion jazz or something, this album will be almost a textbook example of the post-punk country era when kids growing up listening to punk and metal infused a new energy into traditional country in a brilliant way.
The album starts out with a dark montage, then launches right into one of the standout tracks, the bluegrass instrumental “Yankee Taste.” Every good album has what I like to call a ‘sweet spot’ or a series of songs that you can listen through without fast forwarding, and that work together as a group. The whole second half of this album is a sweet spot, starting with the rapid fire lyrics and blazing Hunnicutt guitar on “Thunderbolts and Lightning.” The song “Streets” might be the best on the album, and it certainly is the best arranged, with infectious harmonies, JB Beverly singing a verse, and a pseudo-live audio bed that gives it a very Viva Terlingua feel.
There’s not a ton of blazing mandolin on this album as some might expect, but the songs “Dreadful Sinner” and “Shady Grove Gypsy Moon” illustrate what the Jayke Orvis mando style is all about. He has an uncanny ability to orchestrate notes, chords, and runs that present the theme and mood of a song perfectly, and then he executes with a dizzying preciseness. His playing is super clean; very wise and thought out, almost like he’s playing off of sheet music. And the way he utilizes dark chords and minor movements makes his mandolin songs hauntingly epic.
I didn’t feel a ton of direction or continuity in this album, especially in the first half. But I think that is what Jake is hinting at with the album title. He not trying to be cute or conceptual. This is a collection of songs he’s written over a period of time assembled on an album, instead of concocting some grand idea to work from, and letting the concept get in the way of the content as is so often the case. Jayke is not a dedicated frontman, nor a crooner. He’s a sideman who can write a song, and has the confidence and the skills to be the frontman when called upon. This unselfish, wise approach has resulted in some superb music with numerous projects.
When Jayke was let go from the .357 String Band, fans took sides and debated the move. Regardless of the outcome or opinions, what it illustrated was that people cared, and that people were paying attention. This is good. It was a sign of vitality. Jayke could have gone back to Michigan and worked in a machine shop after that. But he emerged as much more than just the former .357 mandolin player. He emerged as Jake “Goddamn” Orvis, a name that has meaning without being prefaced by a band. He took a punch, got right back up, and now stands as a top-tier musician in underground roots in talent, accomplishment, and legacy.
It’s All Been Said is the maiden voyage for Farmageddon Records, and can be purchased at newrootsorder.com.
Have to say I was impressed with the artwork as well.