Album Review

Desperado Orchestra - Self-titled

Desperado Orchestra - Desperado Orchestra

Desperado Orchestra is a two person music project formed in 2010 consisting of J Lawson and Elizabeth Fong. Both Lawson and Fong have been music instructors for over a decade, and were working and performing in Los Angeles when they met and began to collaborate on tracks that would later make up this debut EP. The two musicians have toured California, particularly around the Long Beach area. J Lawson handles the guitar and vocals while Fong plays violin throughout this four track EP. Lawson and Fong seek to connect world music influences together with American-based material to create a truly eclectic and culturally vibrant experience.

A good way to describe this album would be to classify it as something like “contemporary world-soul”. Elements of African-inspired percussion are heard throughout the EP, but Fong's encompassing violin melodies serve to introduce a sense of contrast which creates a distinct fusion between eastern and western instrumentation that might remind listeners of mid-late sixties American Motown and soul music. The guitar sound is very subtle and clean, typically flowing through a series of mellow seven chords and basic riffs that allow the drum rhythms to sit clearly in the mix while the violin melodies take somewhat of a leading role. The only track on the EP that breaks this formula is “Narcissus”, which implements spoken word and electronic sensibilities that seem to focus on artful commentary as opposed to the more personal and intimate nature of the rest of the lyrical content. J Lawson's vocal performance is very pleasant; most of these songs are simplistic in form and arrangement but succeed in creating a peaceful mood through their thoughtful and worldly aesthetic. The instrumentation and arrangements of these tracks might be something listeners could expect in a slow-paced Earth, Wind & Fire song, but with the vocal presentation of a soft and warm soul singer like Marvin Gaye. J Lawson's musical approach is quite similar to that of Marvin Gaye's; songs are generally positive, genuine, and display a bright sense of optimism all through a very honest, soft, and effortless vocal delivery that maintains its clarity throughout a host of African-inspired percussive elements.

The EP is has potential for growth in a few aspects. The instrumentation could have been more dynamic, the vocal performance could have been more assertive, and the overall mood of the tracks could have been more interesting and exploratory. As a soul/world music album, listeners may find these tracks to be very linear and predictable; there are no blistering drum sections, no ethnically- inspired guitar solos, and no general sense of variation or experimentation. There is nothing wrong with contemplative and thoughtful music, but turning up the heat and deviating from similar song formats could really take Desperado Orchestra to the next level.

This is a unique and soulful album. The combination of the violin with the world drums and the Motown-esc vocals creates an east-west fusion that not many other groups have been able to deliver effectively. Desperado Orchestra has some great compositions and they are working with a sound that is very inspiring and has a lot of potential. Further exploring their sound and really showcasing elements of world music will take this band to an even higher level of quality.

Artist: Desperado Orchestra

Album: Self-Titled EP

Label: Independent


Genre: American/World Fusion/Soul

Sounds Like: Marvin Gaye, Earth Wind & Fire

Technical Grade: 5/10

Production/Musicianship Grade: 5/10

Commercial Value: 7/10

Overall Talent Level: 7/10

Songwriting Skills: 7/10

Performance Skills: 7/10

Best Songs: Outside My Window

Strengths: Unique and genuine sound, creative lyrical content

Weaknesses: Instrumentally limited/predictable 

Owen Matheson