Orbis Max: The Covid Collaborations 2020-2021

Orbis Max: The Covid Collaborations 2020-2021 is available from Bandcamp. Orbis Max is Dick Winter (drums), Don Baake (guitars , bass), Bruce Walker (keyboards), Jonny Viau (sax) Craig Carlstrom (bass , slide guitar), Dennis George (vocals), and Rod Bennett (vocals , guitars, keyboards).

As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic seemingly kicked into overdrive overnight and shut down the ability for musicians to safely enter recording studios, tour, and play local venues. That’s a significant amount of free time on the hands of artists who are accustomed to working for a living. Some retreated and withdrew, while others thought “OK, how am I going to use this to my advantage?” The second stance is the one taken by Orbis Max, who very early in the game decided to commit themselves to creating music by enlisting additional fellow travelers facing the same circumstances.

The additional artists included Danny Wilkerson and Lannie Flowers from SpyderPop Records, Ed Ryan plus Nigel Winfield & Neil Christie from Emperor Penguin, all from Kool Kat Musik, Giovanny Blanco from The Holy Broken & The Dirty Lowdown, Paul “Trip” Ryan from Super 8, and Lisa Mychols. The modern age of technology came through magnificently as these artists communicated and shared their contributions in order to create the thirteen songs found on The Covid Collaborations 2020-2021.

The obvious question is “since this is a compilation, does it hang together as an actual album,” and the answer is “yes.” The band has always had a “build each song as it needs to be built” approach, so it is always more about the experience and less about a single, underlying message or theme. Here are the songs:

The collection kicks off with the Danny Wilkerson and Lannie Flowers collaboration, “One Of A Kind,” a cool, propulsive, confident rocker that really showcases Orbis Max’s single greatest strength…I’ve heard a number of these songs from initial sketch to finished project and the artists involved are absolutely brilliant at adding layers to a track until it shines. It’s all here…catchy chorus and bridge, solos at the right time and right length, a triumph of the collaborative process.

“Everyone Wonders,” with Ed Ryan, maintains the feel of his own solo work, it has cowbell ( ! ), and a big, full, orchestral swing.

“Talk To Me” features Neil Christie and Nigel Winfield from Emperor Penguin, and it continues the trend of immediately engaging verses flowing into impossibly hook-filled, Brit Invasion-infused choruses. The solos are always something special because they have a composed feel, without “over-thinking,” tight enough to fit the song perfectly but still managing to have spontaneity.

“With A Girl” has a nice, mid-to-late period Lennon / McCartney feel, a “Dear Prudence” vibe (without feeling derivative). It’s got that dream-like, lighter-than-air White Album thing going on with a nice, gentle, call-and response finale.

“On The Radio” provides Giovanny Blanco (The Holy Broken / The Dirty Lowdown) with an opportunity to do one of the things he does best…to take a big, bold, “soul revue” track and drive it straight off the cliff. He doesn’t sing it, he leans INTO it, and the full ownership he takes of his participation in the track is clear. It has a tough, tight, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes feel that gallops straight out of the gate and doesn’t let up for the full three minutes and twenty six seconds.

“You Sold Tomorrow,” with Martin Holt, is another Brit Invasion / Psychedelia / Beatlemania gem, with impossibly tasty guitar work. These songs sound like hits you’ve known for years on the first listen, just pristine and joyous.

“Love Keeps Us Together” features Rod Bennett on vocals, guitar, and keyboards, and it will really take you back to Badfinger country. One thing Orbis Max really does to perfection is inserting bridges that light up the rest of the song…so many artists go for verse, chorus, verse, etc…and that CAN work most of the time, but a well-constructed bridge brings a special magic and can move a “good” song into greatness.

“Walkin’ The Streets” features Bill Seward on vocals, and nails that “Quentin Tarantino Soundtrack” / Bobby Womack sweet soul spot, that whole “Across 110th Street” school of cautionary / weary / transcendent soul music. Johnny Viau lights this one up with a brilliant sax solo, followed by keyboard and guitar solos that spring out of the orchestral arrangement and bring the song to a climax.

“Twilight Tripper” is a collaboration between Paul “Trip” Ryan of Super 8, Don Baake and Craig Carlstrom, and it has the feel of Super 8’s other music, a laid-back, easy flowing and lighthearted pop gem.

“Be With You” features Lisa Mychols on vocals, taking you straight to 1960s Highway One and the California Coast, a breathy, relaxed feel that is straight out of the Lesley Gore playbook. From the “ba-ba-ba-ba’s” in the background vocals to the horns, it’s all about vibe and atmosphere, and sits right at the top of this band’s greatest accomplishments. Lisa is always a joy to listen to, but sometimes she not only knocks it out of the park, she scorches the Earth that the park is built on…like on this song.

“Ride” reminded me of earlier Orbis Max albums like “A Pocketful Of Tunes”…it’s what I’d call a “representative” song, one that I’d play if someone asked “Who is Orbis Max?” And in case you’ve missed the glue that holds all together, the lyrics and fade of the finale “Walkin’ through Central Park, tall buildings fill your heart, listening to Beatles singing Strawberry Fields Forever, Forever, Forever…” will make all clear.

“Lonesome Journey” starts off like a great lost Ray Charles soul classic, one of those “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do” soul wails / growls, instructing the bartender to “fill it to the brim.” Rich Staples smokes on lead vocals, Jonny Viau proves once again why he’s the guy to watch in this band with some serious sax work, and Derek Choice contributes a guitar solo that brings a flood of memories from decades past.

The album wraps up with another Paul “Trip” Ryan composition, “Icarus.” It features fantastic orchestration from Ed Ryan. “Icarus flies close to the sun, I always knew that you were the one”…if you have followed this Website and my show since the beginning, you know that Trip is a master DIY alchemist, with an encyclopedic access to the Macca-isms and Wilson flourishes that cut deep into the melancholy and bittersweet realms effortlessly. Framing the album with this song and the Wilkerson / Flowers track was a stroke of genius. The whole album is a celebration of what Orbis Max does best, as well as a love letter to the creative process itself. Here are the tracks, composers, and featured performers:

  1. ONE OF A KIND (Carlstrom , Flowers , Wilkerson) Features SpyderPop Records artists Danny Wilkerson (drums , vocals) and Lannie Flowers (guitars , organ , vocals) with Craig Carlstrom
  2. EVERYONE WONDERS (Ed Ryan) Features Kool Kat Musik recording artist Ed Ryan (vocals , guitars)
  3. TALK TO ME (Carlstrom , Christie , Winfield) Features Kool Kat Musik recording artists Neil Christie and Nigel Winfield from Emperor Penguin. Neil Christie (drums , guitars , keyboard , vocals), Nigel Winfield (guitars and vocals) with Craig Carlstrom
  4. WITH A GIRL (Rod Bennett) Rod Bennett (vocals), Ed Ryan (orchestration) with Craig Carlstrom
  5. ON THE RADIO (Paul ” Trip ” Ryan and Giovanni Blanco) Features Giovanny Blanco from The Holy Broken and The Dirty Lowdown. Giovanni Blanco (vocals), Debbie Hennessey (vocals), Jonny Viau (saxes), with Craig Carlstrom
  6. YOU SOLD TOMORROW (Martin Holt) Martin Holt (12 string guitar , vocals), Ed Ryan (middle guitar solo), Dennis George (lead vocals), with Craig Carlstrom
  7. LOVE KEEPS US TOGETHER (Rod Bennett) Rod Bennett (vocals , guitars , keyboard) with Craig Carlstrom
  8. WALKING THE STREETS AT NIGHT (Bill Seward) Bill Seward (vocal) Will Seward (guitar solo), Jonny Viau (saxes) with Craig Carlstrom
  9. TWILIGHT TRIPPER (Carlstrom , P. Ryan , Baake) Dennis George (vocals), Trip Ryan (harmonica & percussion), Craig Carlstrom (vocals)
  10. BE WITH YOU (Carlstrom , Mychols) Lisa Mychols (all vocals) with Craig Carlstrom
  11. RIDE (Rod Bennett) Dennis George (vocals), Rod Bennett (vocals) with Craig Carlstrom
  12. LONESOME JOURNEY (Jonny Viau) Rich Staples (vocal), Derek Choice (guitar solo), Jonny Viau (saxes) with Craig Carlstrom
  13. ICARUS (Paul ” Trip ” Ryan) Dennis George (vocals) Rod Bennett (vocals), Ed Ryan (orchestration with Craig Carlstrom, Produced by Craig Carlstrom, Don Baake & Rod Bennett.