THE JAMES L’ESTRAUNGE ORCHESTRA-EVENTUAL REALITY.

The James L’Estraunge Orchestra-Eventual Reality. 

Label: BBE.

For the best part of six decades, Scotland has enjoyed a thriving and vibrant music scene, and produced many artist and bands that went on to enjoy commercial success and critical acclaim. This started back in the sixties, when Sunshine Soldier Donavon enjoyed a string of successful singles and albums. He was just one of a number of Scottish artists and bands who forged a successful musical career during the sixties. However, as the sixties gave way to the seventies, a new wave of Scottish artists and bands were about to enjoy commercial success at home and abroad.

This included the Average White Band, Maggie Bell, Nazareth and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, who were among Scotland’s most successful musical exports.  

As the eighties dawned, the Scottish music scene was thriving in the post punk years. There was also an air of optimism, with new labels being founded, including Postcard Records which was founded by Alan Horne in 1979. By 1980, the nascent label was releasing singles by Josef K and Orange Juice, who would become one of the most successful Scottish groups of the eighties. So were Aztec Camera, Cocteau Twins, Deacon Blue, Del Amitri, Lloyd Cole and The Commotions, Love and Money, Simple Minds, The Blue Nile and The Jesus and Mary Chain. They were, without doubt, among the biggest names in Scottish music, and their career continued into the nineties and in some cases, way beyond.

During the nineties, groups like Belle and Sebastian, Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub,  The Pearlfishers and The Trashcan Sinatras were all releasing critically acclaimed and successful albums. Meanwhile, the Beta Band, King Creosote and Mogwai were embarking upon what would be successful careers.

Over the next few years, the Beta Band, King Creosote and Mogwai careers blossomed, while the next generation of Scottish bands embarked upon what would ultimately be successful careers. Among them, were Frightened Rabbit, The Phantom Band and The Twilight Sad. Each of these bands were hoping that they would be the one the made the big breakthrough.

Sadly, by 2017 none of these bands have hit the heights that they had hoped. Neither have some of the newer bands including Admiral Fallow, Errors, Miaoux Miaoux and The Unwinding Hours. The only one new band that might go on to great things are swaggering rockers The Temperance Movement. They’re seems as Scottish’s rock’s great hope during what’s been an extremely disappointing couple of years for Scottish music. 

The only new names that are enjoying commercial success are Chvrches, plus former shelf stacker, turned DJ and ‘producer’ Calvin Harris. Saving the day for Scottish music over the last couple of years have been Mogwai, King Creosote and comeback Kings and musical veterans Teenage Fanclub and Trashcan Sinatras. Maybe though things are improving for Scottish music, and the days of third-rate, twee music could be over?

The first hint that things were improving was the release of Mogwai’s critically acclaimed ninth studio album Every Country’s Sun. Now just a couple of weeks later, and Scottish music’s latest great hope The James L’Estraunge Orchestra have released their much-anticipated debut album Eventual Reality on BBE. It’s an album with a fascinating backstory.

This story began three years ago in 2014, when producer and musician Ricky Reid and his partner decided to leave the city behind and make a new life:  “away from the constant, incoherent noise of the world.”  By then, Ricky Reid was a veteran of the Edinburgh music scene, and had spent twenty years in various bands. 

Among them was The Soul Renegades, which featured Ricky Reid and  Craig Smith. They released a number of singles between 1998 and 2013 for labels like Restless Soul, Local Talk and Rainy City Records. Ricky Reid was also vocalist and keyboardist in the 6th Borough Project, and featured on their 2014 album Borough 2 Borough. He’s also worked as a vocalist, songwriter and producer. However, by 2014 twenty years of city life was taking its toll on Ricky Reid.

By then, Ricky Reid was dreaming of making a new start in the beautiful Scottish countryside far from Edinburgh. Soon, Ricky Reid and his partner had decided to make this dream a reality. For Ricky Reid, the day he left the city behind couldn’t come quickly enough.

Eventually, the day came, and Ricky Reid was pleased and relived to be leaving city life behind, and heading to the tranquil and beautiful countryside in the highlands of Scotland. This was the new start that he had been dreaming of. It was where Ricky Reid and his partner were about to call home, and where he was about to setup his studio.  

As he unpacked the array of equipment he had gathered over the years, he realised how different country life was going to be. Ricky Reid realised that the views were spectacular and the air clean and fresh. Country life was going to be different to his old life in Edinburgh.

Especially living in a log cabin that had neither a television nor internet access. The log cabin was a distraction free zone, which Ricky Reid hoped would allow him to hone his skills as a producer. Soon, Ricky Reid was joined by some of his old friends. Little did he know that his new surroundings would prove inspirational for Ricky Reid and his friends.

Over the next few months, curiosity got the better of some of Ricky Reid’s musician friends. They wanted to see where their old friend was living, and decided to visit him. When they arrived they must have been dismayed to find that there was neither a television nor internet. Fortunately, they brought with them their instruments. It was going to be like the old days when Ricky Reid lived in the city and his friends arrived round for a late night jam sessions. The only difference was there were no neighbours to complain about the noise and the view surroundings were very different.

In the evenings, Ricky Reid and his musician friends headed into the log cabin that had been converted into a recording studio. The equipment was setup and Ricky Reid decided to record the sessions, just in case they produced anything special. As Ricky Reid pressed play and the makeshift band played, it was as if they were inspired by their surroundings. Something special started to happen and the music flowed through and out of the musicians. Fortunately, the tapes kept running and Ricky Reid managed to capture these performances for posterity.

There were several similar jam sessions which took place over the next few weeks and months. Just like the very first jam session that took place in his log cabin, they were taped by Ricky Reid. Once the series of jam sessions were at end, Ricky Reid began to piece together the tapes. 

This he realised would allow him to hone his skills as a producer. While Ricky Reid had a few production credits to his name, he lacked the experience of some of the big hitters in Scottish music scene, including Paul Savage and Tony Doogan. They had been honing their skills as a producer for several decades. Working on the tapes of the jam sessions would be good experience for Ricky Reid.

With no distractions, Ricky Reid was able to concentrate all his efforts on producing what eventually became The James L’Estraunge Orchestra’s debut album Eventual Reality. This was something that Ricky Reid had never been able to do before. For Ricky Reid this was a creative awakening, where: “I’ve become a conduit for something different” and this was something different to what: “I’ve ever experienced before.” 

Over the next weeks and months, Ricky Reid spent much of his time piecing together the various jam sessions that had taken place in his home studio. Gradually, Ricky Reid started to see the wood from the trees, and the album started to take shape. During that period, Ricky Reid matured as a producer and learnt a lot, not just about production, but about himself. He came to realise what he was capable of as he was putting the finishing touches to The James L’Estraunge Orchestra’s debut album Eventual Reality. 

When Eventual Reality was complete, all that Ricky Reid needed to do was find a record company willing to release the album. That was easier said than done in the current economic climate. However, BBE who celebrate their twenty-first birthday this year, agreed to release Eventual Reality.

Rather than release the album using his own name, Ricky Reid decided it was only fair to credit the various musicians involved in the project.  As a result, The James L’Estraunge Orchestra was born. They sound like a seventies disco orchestra from Philly or New York rather than from Edinburgh in Scotland. James L’Estraunge certainly doesn’t sound as if he’s from Edinburgh, especially Leith, Pilton, Broomhouse and Wester Hailes. He’s even bit too exotic even for Morningside or Corstorphine. Indeed, the music on The James L’Estraunge Orchestra’s album Eventual Reality certainly sounds quite unlike music anything else coming out of Scotland. It showcases a talented group of musicians as they make the nine  genre-melting tracks that became Eventual Reality.

Eventual Reality opens with the title-track a seven minute epic where chugging, buzzing and ethereal synths meander along and create a thoughtful sounding backdrop. This is fitting as the track tells the story of a musician trying to make sense of life, and attempting to reconcile his past and present from his newfound rural idyll. At 1.00 filters are added and soon, drums pound as the arrangement chugs along. Before long, futuristic sounds, crashing drum rolls, guitars and swathes of strings are added as the arrangement builds. Eventually, the Orchestra is in full flight as stabs of keyboards, braying horns and layers of dancing strings combine to create a stirring, sometimes dramatic and impressive sound. Later, a fleet fingered piano solo combines with strings, drums and synths. Having reached a crescendo, this stirring, melodic and cinematic track starts to dissipate leaving just the memory of this impressive, multilayered genre-melting soundscape.

Shimmering, twinkling keyboards, hesitant drums and percussion opens Me and The Bear. They’re joined by the bass as the Orchestra play with a fluidity. Then at just the right moment strings and  lone horn are added. Meanwhile, the a mesmeric piano plays a leading role as the bass bound across the arrangement. By then sci-fi and bubbling synths have been added as the drums and later stabs of horns join the flowing, mesmeric and elegiac multilayered arrangement as it reveals its many secrets.

Found sounds recorded on the streets of Melbourne open Closer, and give way to the rhythm section and keyboards. Soon, drums power the arrangement along, and strings are added as Ricky Reid adds a vocal. He’s accompanied by backing vocals as he unleashes a vocal powerhouse. Behind him, strings dance and the deliberate keyboards combine with drums which sensibly have been pushed back in the mix. This allows the keyboards and vocals to take centre-stage. So do the  drums, horns and keyboards as the solos come round. They’re joined by lush sweeping strings as the Orchestra jam, and showcase their considerable skills on this anthemic and empowering song that quite rightly, was chosen as the lead single. 

Atmospheric describes the introduction to We Rise as the sound of waves breaking on a beach can be heard, against a percussive backdrop. Meanwhile, a distant bass and keyboards play. Soon, the keyboards enters, and flourish signals it’s time for the rhythm section to enter. They’re soon joined by sweeping, swirling and dancing strings  and later a scorching, blazing horn. The final piece of the jigsaw is Ricky Reid’s vocal, and he’s again joined by backing vocalist Emerald Anne Jade. Reverb is added to Ricky Reid’s vocal, which becomes dubby as the arrangement becomes dream as it dissipates and the sound of waves breaking on a beach return. This bookends this carefully crafted track that veers between atmospheric to lush and slick and is melodic and memorable.

The tempo drops on See You Tonight which many people of a will be able to relate to, as it deals with the loss of youth. As the rhythm section combine with keyboards and guitar they create a thoughtful backdrop that sets the scene for Ricky Reid’s vocal. He sounds uncannily like a young Chris Rea as he delivers a tender, soul-baring vocal. Harmonies, horns, lush strings, chirping guitar join with glistening keyboards as drums create a slow, steady beat. Care has been taken that they don’t overpower the best vocal on the album. Later, when the vocal drops out keyboards join with a lone, melancholy horn add to the late night sound, When the vocal returns they add the final touch to this beautiful, heart-wrenching paean.

There’s a degree of urgency to the drums that open Autumn Falls. Soon, they’re joined by shimmering keyboards, rhythm section and  glistening guitar. Strings are added to the mix as the arrangement builds and the Orchestra jam. They play as one and then when the solos come round, some members enjoy their moment in the sun. This includes the drums and fusion influenced keyboards, as strings dance. Subtle chirping, cheeping guitar and bass interact and are like yin and yang during a track this captivating track. Sadly, after nearly seven minutes this impressive combination of timbres is over as The James L’Estraunge Orchestra seamlessly combine jazz, fusion, electronica and disco strings.

Thunderous and urgent drum rolls propel the arrangement to It’s Happened Before along before a dark, dramatic and ominous piano is joined by glistening keyboards and sweeping string. This results in a cinematic sound. Especially as horns interject and the combine with the strings. By then, it’s as if The James L’Estraunge Orchestra have been asked to provide a track to a thriller. Later, synths and guitar are added as the arrangement continues to build. Keyboards then inject an urgency as strings sweep and horns add a dark, rueful sound. They’re part of what can only be described as a cinematic epic from The James L’Estraunge Orchestra.

There’s a tragic story behind The Call came from an incident that happened near Ricky Reid’s home: “ it was written after a local car accident ended in tragedy for a young girl visiting the area. She was trapped underwater after driving off the road, which shocked the village and provoked this emotive, free form track” Just a lone piano plays slowly and deliberately before found sounds are fused with elements of what John Cage called small music. They create a minimalist backdrop to the piano until the midway point. Then a jarring drone cuts and angular creaking sounds are added and add an avant-garde sound. Later, strings sweep and swirl and a melancholy horn brays as The James L’Estraunge Orchestra paint pictures with their music.

Ricky Reid’s decision to cover Harvey Mason Jr.’s Groovin’ You is a brave one, as it’s a jazz-funk classic. It’s also the definitive version. There’s no way this track can be bettered. However, it can be reworked and reinvented. That is what The James L’Estraunge Orchestra do. Drums click and crack as a deliberate piano combines with a plucked bass that replaces the bounding bass in the original. Soon, braying horns are added as the track takes on a looser jazzier sound. Later, strings sweep, swirl and dance, horns blaze and bray and a jazzy guitar solo gives way to drums that are slapped. All the time the arrangement is building, and bandleader Ricky Reid encourages his Orchestra to reach greater heights. There’s even a pregnant pause before the band kick loose and head for home. By then, they’re in full flight and sound determined to close Eventual Reality on a high. In doing  so, they pay homage to a legendary drummer, composer and producer Harvey Mason Jr.

Although Groovin’ is the last of the original tracks, there’s also an Instrumental and Radio Edit of Closer. These eleven tracks feature on The James L’Estraunge Orchestra’s critically acclaimed debut album Eventual Reality, which has just been released on BBE. 

Eventual Reality showcases is the first album since Ricky Reid has recorded and produced since he left Edinburgh behind and headed to a rural idyll in the highlands of Scotland. The album was born in a log cabin, when Ricky Reid and some of his friends started jamming. Just three years later, and these tracks were released as Eventual Reality. It’s a carefully crafted, genre-melting album where Ricky Reid and friends combine elements of avant-garde, electronica, funk, fusion and jazz, with disco, jazz-funk and small music. The result is a potent and heady brew from The James L’Estraunge Orchestra.

It finds beautiful ballads siting side-by-side with anthems and  atmospheric and cinematic soundscapes. There’s also irresistible instrumentals and songs where the hooks certainly haven’t been spared. Each and every song on Eventual Reality is different, and they veer between anthemic, joyous and uplifting to beautiful and heart-wrenching to poignant, ruminative and thoughtful. Often there’s a message or story to the song, and The James L’Estraunge Orchestra breathe life and meaning into these cinematic soundscapes and songs. 

These songs are part of The James L’Estraunge Orchestra’s long-awaited and much-anticipated debut album Eventual Reality which is full inventive, melodic and memorable music. It’s also a reminder that there are still talented and musicians in Scotland, like those in The James L’Estraunge Orchestra Maybe things are looking up for the Scottish music scene which has been in the doldrums for a couple of years? Let’s hope so. Meanwhile, The James L’Estraunge Orchestra’s debut album Eventual Reality must be an early contender for the Scottish Album of The Year Award in 2018? 

The James L’Estraunge Orchestra-Eventual Reality.

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