Orenda Fink is tired of writing love songs. That’s what she spent most of her energy on in the folky Saddle Creek outfit Azure Ray. But, after Azure Ray went on hiatus (indefinitely, of course), Fink went on a journey which led her to India, Cambodia, Haiti, and to an eventual spiritual awakening.
Fink’s first solo effort is expansive, crossing cultures, faiths, and musical genres. And yet, each song intimately, almost secretly, whispers only one character’s story and search for meaning. These wide ranges of characters, from misunderstood Southern boys to oppressed Haitian servants, are the outcasts, the dregs, the Invisible Ones that hover on the edge of society. Orenda Fink gives them a voice.
The opening track, “Leave It All” is the tale of a woman who throws herself off a bridge, only then to achieve a moment of clarity—an answer to her sacred questions. Fink’s success here, and with each track on the album, is the ease to which she slips into this woman’s voice. No longer singing personal songs of heartbreak, Fink takes on multiple personas—as far from her own life as can be. As a result the musical styles vary wildly to correspond with each personality. “Bloodline” is a straight up rock song about a woman creeping into dementia as she talks gibberish to herself on a cross-country bus ride. In stark contrast, the spare pizzicato of a string quartet is the only accompaniment to “Blind Asylum.” Fink weaves a gentle first person narrative through the eyes of Joseph Merrick—the elephant man. The plucking of elegant strings underscores his desire to take refuge from gawking eyes at a blind asylum.
Fink crafts these characters tenderly and warmly. And in addition, she is able to articulate their existential searches for meaning. “Invisible Ones Guard the Gate,” a bluesy piano ballad backed by occasional strings, follows someone’s futile search for an afterlife in the wake of her mother’s death. A slightly more hopeful view of spirituality is offered in “Miracle Worker,” the story of a comatose girl who heals the sick who come to her. Fink doesn’t stick to strictly western views of spirituality, however, as witnessed by the tribal call and answer chant, “Animal.” By enlisting the help of a Haitian choir, Fink tries her best to recreate a Voodoo ceremony she witnessed in the outback of Haiti.
Grand in scope, yet delicate in execution, Invisible Ones is a rare find. Orenda Fink has bold ambitions, and her attempts at stretching her songwriting are courageous, if not always completely successful. The most effective songs are those that don’t stray too far from the genres Orenda Fink knows best. However, her forays into other musical styles are well worth the effort. If she keeps pushing the limits of her music, she’ll quickly make a name for herself outside of Azure Ray.
Azure Ray—Azure Ray
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