Nick Strange Trio
Multilayered and sumptuous
by Charmie Gholson
Singer-songwriter and guitarist Dan Orcutt has been making music in this town for about fifteen years. Like his other bands, the Nick Strange Trio is professional and tight, and Orcutt's vocals are still rich. But in the few years since I last saw him, his songwriting has matured. His songs are fuller, more orchestral really and gain even more from the addition of new band member and powerhouse vocalist Jessica Oberholtzer.
The Nick Strange Trio often plays at Goodnite Gracie, and that's where I saw the group last. Andrew "O" Schreiber was at the drums, and John Sperendi was filling in for Rob Crozier on bass. Each of these guys also plays with various other bands, and it's a real bonus for Orcutt to have such flexible and gifted musicians onstage with him. He needs folks who can keep up with his different musical styles.
Orcutt's music is multilayered and sumptuous, but unlike what some other fusion or free-flowing jazz groups play, it doesn't make you feel as if you're not smart enough to "get it." He cooks up a stew of calypso, reggae, funky Delta, Afro pop, jazz, and rock 'n' roll and serves it up in a very palatable way. Days after I see his band perform, Orcutt's voice and melodies still play in my head, even though I don't know the lyrics. His music is groovy and comfy like an afternoon drive in a convertible along the Gulf Coast.
I don't ordinarily like cover bands, but the few covers Nick Strange plays are arranged into what amounts to a different song with the same lyrics. It's done so well that I don't consciously compare the covers with the originals. They're like little surprises. For instance, the band played Tom Petty's "Free Falling" as a calypso. I sang along easily, yet I experienced it in a new way.
Orcutt introduced Jessica, and they played "Highway 441," a long, moody piece from the
band's upcoming album. It's a good jam session, and Schreiber played a little military march. Jessica, who was wearing her thick black hair in a short, sly coif, subtly shook her huge black hoop earrings and easily filled the house with her voice, while the trio jammed behind her. She seemed to be having a great time.
"Someday I'll quit playing this homemade crap and buy a real guitar," Orcutt told us, but I can't imagine why; his guitar plays smooth, like his voice. Why ruin a good thing? After another song, the band picked up the pace a bit and allowed Schreiber to let loose a little.
During the break, before the crowd started yelling "Bring back the girl," I ran into Jessica in the bathroom. She looked fabulous and had no pretentious diva complex. Get this she's an industrial systems engineer by day. No wonder she looks as if she's having so much fun onstage.
The Nick Strange Trio is at Goodnite Gracie on Thursday, May 3, and Saturday, May 26.
[Review published May 2007]