As important as Klein to the overall sound are the contributions of fiddler and vocalist Merrill Hodnefield. She plays the oddest among Orpheum Bell's collection of instruments. The band's MySpace page features an image it has used as a logo: the guts of a violin, with a big metal horn sticking out of one side instead of a wooden sound box. This is the Stroh violin, otherwise known as the violinophone (Waits has also used it occasionally), an attempt from the premicrophone days to amplify a violin's sound. Its keening tone is one of several unusual violin sounds offered by Hodnefield, who also seems to have a collection of mutes. She carries Orpheum Bell's music sufficiently far over the boundaries of the ordinary that it begins to take on a hypnotic, parallel-universe effect.
There's a collection of younger artists who take the surrealist rather than the sunny side of 1920s culture as a point of departure, but Orpheum Bell goes beyond most of them. If you happen to have seen Guy Maddin's entirely individual take on the visual language of European silent films, you might think of Orpheum Bell as something like the musical equivalent. This local band turned out a nearly full house of young people at one of the Ark's free Take a Chance Tuesday concerts in September, and when young people pay attention to something quiet, everybody would do well to take notice. Orpheum Bell has shows lined up at the Belmont in Hamtramck and the Cadieux Cafe in Detroit hip spots that have launched a lasting career or two. The band plays the Old Town on Sunday, November 4.
[Review published November 2007]