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Jim O’Rourke - The Visitor

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Artist: Jim O’Rourke

Album: The Visitor

Label: Drag City

Review date: Sep. 8, 2009

The last we heard from Jim O’Rourke solo, officially, was his Nicolas Roeg trilogy, Bad Timing, Eureka, and Insignificance. Common wisdom had these records being his reconciliation with song writing, though I remember thinking at the time that they were fantastic sounding records that were a bit below par on the actual songs front. (I got more mileage from his recently reissued laptop album for Mego, I’m Happy, I’m Singing And A 1, 2, 3, 4.) In hindsight, that trio of albums slots neatly into a continuum of exploration for O’Rourke – another period of restless investigation which dealt with songs as research, building blocks to dis- and re-assemble.

I guess you could say the same thing about The Visitor, as it’s a fairly delimited experience – O’Rourke’s 38-minute, one-song dream of the kind of epic, conceptual song-ic arcana that used to slip under the major-label net in more forgiving times. Propelled by O’Rourke’s acoustic guitar, and woven with rich, evocative arrangements for extended band (all played by O’Rourke, mind you) that stretch his guitar phrases and figures into elaborate architectures, it’s a gorgeous album. The episodic nature of The Visitor has me flashing on the return of themes and motifs inherent to soundtracks, though that’s more a structural signifier, and the articulacy of O’Rourke’s production and arrangement recalls one of his heroes, Van Dyke Parks, simply for his ability to work with archetypal, historically loaded forms while still saying something new and personal.

If The Visitor truly reminds this listener of anything, most notably in its first ten minutes or so, it’s Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark or The Hissing Of Summer Lawns (albeit shorn of full-blown songs). This is little surprise given O’Rourke’s love of music from the 1970s. If the first five years of that decade are still disingenuously misinterpreted as the dry patches to late ‘60s psych and ‘76 punk’s wet spots, O’Rourke here re-values the ‘70s singer-songwriter as artisan and fantasist, and The Visitor most of all sounds like glorious fantasia. In toto, The Visitor joins the dots between early ‘70s folk-rock, the open string resonance of Takoma, and the blissful indolence of renegade Americana at its most wasted (see David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name). Though I do worry a little about these constant comparisons: one unfortunate outcome from O’Rourke’s vocal enthusiasm is a tendency for writers to try and join the dots between his influences, rather than take O’Rourke’s music at its

But that fantasia (and occasional referentiality) is welcome: I’ll take O’Rourke’s articulation of fantasy over most any other artist’s drudgery of reality, any day. I’ve not listened to any other album from 2009 quite so much, or quite so closely, a reflection not only of the exacting single-mindedness of O’Rourke’s vision, but also of The Visitor‘s loveliness.

By Jon Dale

Other Reviews of Jim O’Rourke

I'm Happy, And I'm Singing, And A 1, 2, 3, 4

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I’m Happy, and I’m Singing, and a 1, 2, 3, 4 (Reissue)

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