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The James Orr Complex - Chori's Bundle

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Artist: The James Orr Complex

Album: Chori's Bundle

Label: Ba Da Bing

Review date: Aug. 1, 2004

Although Chris Mack’s associations might indicate otherwise (he was a member of Eska with Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite), his monikor The James Orr Complex traffics in the sort of rough-hewn, intricately plucked folk music that's becoming all the rage these days. Balancing between intricate finger-picking, circular melodies and rhythms, and his plaintive yelp of a vocal, Chori's Bundle represents Mack's first foray into the realm of the solo and unplugged. And as would be expected from any first go-round, an erstwhile listener will find a few creative missteps nestled amongst what is largely a successful debut disc.

To be sure, Mack is a phenomenally talented guitarist. His picking style instantly recalls a lineage that invokes both American buskers like John Fahey and British folk legends such as Bert Jansch. "The Good, the Bad & the Indifferent," the album's second track, summarizes this approach neatly. While the melodies may be pronounced, the rhythms are intuitive and prone to subtle shifts. Moves like this could easily sound jarring in less capable hands, but Mack manages to pin it all together with his forceful strum and nimble fingers.

The instrumental takes on Chori's Bundle are easily the most worthwhile, revealing an approach that while rather upfront about their antecedents manages to never fall into direct repetition or outright regurgitation – which is no small feat. "Mista Jocula" adds a faint blues line to its upbeat lilt, while "O Conde" at times brings up images of one of Robbie Basho's ragas.

Things get problematic with tracks like "Superimposition," which tend to sound like fairly stodgy indie rock, sans amplification or rhythm sections – the sort of material that calls to mind open mic night at a cleverly named coffee shop, or NPR tote bags laden with recent Borders' purchases. Thankfully, Mack doesn't lapse into these simplistic chord structures too often. In fact, only "Fade Grey to Fade Blue" really sets off any overly sentimental warning bells.

But tracks such as these highlight one of the larger problems here – Mack's vocal style and lyrical moves. Simply put, when juxtaposed with what amounts to a series of great blues and folk invocations, Mack's turns on the mic seem a bit navel-gazey and self-absorbed. Which is not to say that all vocalists should aspire to channel the ghost of Octavio Paz; but on the other hand, verbal alignments with the college rock set seem to pop up more than are really necessary or desired. Tracks like "Conversation" and "Free Harmony" deviate from this mold, however, with Anna Mack lending a breathy backup to the chorus of the former.

Mack's first outing under the moniker of The James Orr Complex is impressive, but not without a few bits of backsliding here and there. If he can nail his vocals down in the future and find a voice suited to his dexterous control of the six-string, future recordings from one Chris Mack will truly be something special.

By Michael Crumsho

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