Band – Orion and The Constellations
Album / Label – Alive / Unsigned
Rating – 4 / 5
10 Years, the debut album from Columbus blues rockers Orion and The Constellations was released in October 2016. Full of the blues, and with a nod to the late Stevie Ray Vaughn, it was a solid effort from the blue-collar band.
Fast-forward to the present and the band is releasing their sophomore effort, Alive. It’s a collection of 8-tracks, varying from standard blues numbers to all-out rockers that will have you tossing down double-fisted shots of whiskey all night long.
Recorded, engineered and mastered by Joe Viers at Sonic Lounge Studios, Alive finds the band displaying a more mature sound with added depth throughout the album, both musically, lyrically and stylistically. As you listen to the songs, they become a breathing, moving entity. At it’s essence, it is alive.
Orion DiFranco (guitar, vocals) is the ringleader, with The Constellations comprising Erik Rau (drums) and Jason Rau (bass) and accompanied by Kevin Ashba on keyboards.
The former steel worker hasn’t forgotten the times of working the steel mill by day and teaching himself blues guitar by night. The working man ethos is, forgive the pun, alive within each member of the band, and it spews forth sonically on the new album.
The title track starts with a slow groove from DiFranco, with the steadily intensifying beat of Jason Rau’s drums worming their way into your chest. As Erik Rau jumps right in the pocket with his bass, Orion coaxes dirtiness from his axe. “You know I had to take some time,” DiFranco sings with aplomb, “to fix what’s dead inside…” Alive assuredly sets the tone for what’s to follow.
A funk groove travels just below the surface of Crown, with blues and rock elements layered masterfully throughout the song’s structure. Ashba’s keyboard work is subtle, but poignant, becoming an integral bridge over which DiFranco channels his inner Gary Moore. This track could easily be extended in a “live” setting, as the song lends itself to improvisation.
Steel Mill Poet starts off with a dirty, down-tempo pace that has some dirty guitar riffs wafting in and out. DiFranco’s vocals are such that you feel like you’re in the steel mill, while also feeling the pain encompassed by the lyrics. “It’s not about the few, it’s about the many…” he wails, begging the listener to rise to the challenge of thinking of more than just themselves. It’s a hard-hitting message ensconced in slow blues riffs.
Midnight Blues has that familiar time signature of so many blue songs that make you want to get up and start dancing. As DiFranco laments the fact that you drank all his booze, Ashba’s keyboards carry an almost honkytonk feel as the pace is kept high, with the band jumping in with little flourishes that make you feel right at home.
The heartbreak is palatable on Act of War, relating the games that people play with each other. Lyrically, this is “true blues” through and through, although they add a rock element to the latter half of the song that reminds you of the power ballads that were once popular, although there is no irony permeating the song.
Drinkin’ Hole is pure rock with a blues undercurrent that simply wails. DiFranco shows some of his finest guitar work on this track, as the rest of the band keeps pace admirably. This song reminds you of some of the best drinking songs that George Thorogood did in his heyday. It’s the shortest song on the album, clocking in at just 2:26. And yet, it still packs one hell of a punch.
Every guy has that one girl that broke his heart at some point. Beauty Queen is about that woman and the fact that drinks at the bar may not be the answer, but they sure help you forget. The Rau brothers on bass and drums carry the rhythm, with DiFranco’s vocals and guitar dancing back and forth with a sweet suppleness. The standout on this track is Ashba’s keyboard work, making a classic tone sound updated and fresh.
I’m Not Scared is uptempo, with a hint of Carlos Santana wafting across DiFranco’s guitar strings. The uplifting song, full of hope, is a wonderful tune with which to close the album, showcasing the band’s tightness. The song has the added benefit of Alli Purcell on backup vocals that accompany DiFranco’s soaring emotion in a beautiful way, without being obtrusive.
Playing Alive in its entirety will only set you back twenty-six minutes. But, the band packs a punch in that timeframe, running through myriad emotions while staying true to their blues rock ethos. The addition of Ashba on keyboards brings an added depth and dimension to the Rau brother’s rhythm section, with DiFranco’s excellent guitar work and moving vocals striking just the right tone.
The production of this album is a testament to Joe Viers at Sonic Lounge Studios, as he manages to bring out a very rich aural texture to the songs. The band stays true to their roots without sounding dated, which is no small feat.
If you’re a fan of the blues or rock, I would recommend you get your own copy of this album posthaste. It wouldn’t surprise this writer to see Orion and The Constellations on a steep trajectory to widespread recognition and acceptance in the not-too-distant future.
The band is celebrating the release of Alive with an album release show at Woodland’s Tavern on Saturday, April 28 at 7 p.m.
Orion and The Constellations – The People (from the local compilation The Fog That Surrounds Us, released February 2018)