The very first track of this album, "If You Want Love", immediately shakes the listener out of any complacency. In the first few seconds it was blues rock. Then it quickly morphed into funk rock, and finally changed into a distinctive style somewhere between rock and alt. country, a style that I have been forever unable to pin down. Welcome to Mordred the Quarter Known and are you in for some journey!
If there was one word to describe the album it would be eclectic. What any of the songs have to do with the eponymous anti-Hero or Arthurian legend, I have been unable to fathom. But then I have been unable to fathom so much about the album. By the time of the second track, I am utterly confused. "Hope and Fire" has a delightful guitar line, but the acoustic intro and the overall feel of the track as something which might have come out of an early eighties power ballad, and yet is nothing of the sort. Already track two and I am completely unable to get a grip on this.
And that is good. Oh yes, that is good! Already, I want to hear more. How much more can be delivered? What are we in for now - a kind of Buffalo Tom-lite soothing indie rock comes up next in "Where the World Is Waiting for You" but, true to form, the first impression does not last. Just how does Ryan David Orr manage to cram so much, such diversity of style, feeling and music into such a short space? I am not ten minutes into the album and already I have to stop. I cannot take much more of this without a break. Damn I need a cigarette.
Cigarette break over, I settle down to listen to the rest of the album. A seventies style hard rock drum flourish opens "April, I Am Sure the Stars Understand" and then it settles down to a Groundhogs style blues rocker with a refrain that is softer, kinder, more gentle before closing with an almost Blue Öyster Cult solo. This album does not let up. If anyone wants an easy ride, full of comfortable and consistent sounds then you are not going to find it here. Mordred the Quarter Known parades before you what could almost be a complete range of guitar based musical styles and virtually invites you to pick your favourite. But you can't. Barely has one track finished its tapestry of styles and then along comes another with yet more colours added to the palette.
Still to come are tracks which remind you of seventies Eric Clapton, Average White Band, Boz Scaggs and who knows who else. But there is not just guitars. "Woman" makes masterful use of a soulful clarinet. There's a fiddle on "Write It on the Wall". "Scream at the Clouds" begins with a distorted gospel choir and has a recording of children shouting forming part of the vocal arrangement. Do I hear Peter Gabriel in "The Ocean I Bleed Before"? And what a way to close out an album with "Butterfly"!
This album is certainly a journey. But it is in no way derivative. It is far too diverse for that. Orr manages to wrap his fingers around music which shows off probably the broadest range of talented style I have heard on a single (non-compilation) album before - or am ever likely to again. He takes his various influences and varieties and melds them together into something that is uniquely his own. There is enough here to keep you occupied for months. And there is certainly enough to draw you back time and time again. And if that isn't a recommendation, then I don't know what is.
And I really need a physical copy of this album!