Anonymity or stardom - Arthur Autumn isn't sure which road to take. He could be another Vincent Fournier hiding behind the mask of Alice Cooper. He could become a heavy metal overlord…or he could become Brent Nuffer. It might pay less but at least he could just be himself instead of skulking in shadow of his forefathers.
Brent spent a good part of his youth fronting the Detroit/Lansing-based band Studiotone. This was some tasty hard driving rock & roll that not only had the beat but also included melody and harmony. Go figure. These cats released two spectacular CDs on Not Lame Records and opened for such notable acts as Sponge, Bowling for Soup, Blessid Union of Souls, and 7 Mary 3. It was a good start.
At the end of Studiotone's seven-year run, Nuffer was shifting gears to a more introspective sound. Nuffer became Arthur Autumn and in 2006 StrofoamPillsHeartbreakShaker was released to rave reviews and several well-attended CD release parties. The game is on and Nuffer has never looked back.
Sir Orchid the Magnificent is a phenomenal piece of music. Its themes are cohesive and the music is gorgeous. The sound exudes a warm tonality as everything was recorded on analogue tape. Nuffer and producer Andy Reed created a rich musical landscape. The music comes alive in colorful overtones like an old well-tuned piano.
In a recent interview Nuffer revealed the inside skinny on his new project:
“Sir Orchid & The Magnificent is a made up name, or character, fiction. I wanted something like Sgt. Peppers, Mr. Kite, Lovely Rita, and Mean Mr. Mustard...that sort of thing. I wanted to explore creating characters in the songs, create some stories,” he explains. “Yet I am indirectly in each one of those characters and there are indirect messages in each story. .It was an experiment to write in a different way, a way that I had not in the past, in a way that was not so direct & personal, yet still very personal. For instance, Training To Bee A Boxer, may sound like it has nothing to do with me, yet it is probably one of the most personals songs I have ever written. I said a lot in that one, that I always wanted to say, without really saying it. But it's all in there. It's a way to get out of the box.”
Heartkid is a short little ditty that sounds like Joplin-esque ragtime. The old time honky tonk piano gets your feet tappin' and before you know it you're smiling and doin' the two-step. Autumn's grizzly nuanced vocal is mixed up front and center. He's a vocal gymnast that can stretch and bend his voice like Mary Lou Retton working the parallel rails. He is a gifted vocalist with a voice that spans several octaves. He's singing down low and in a father's crusty voice.
Goodbye Miss Audrey Rose is a psychedelicized blues number. It opens with some tasty acoustic slide work. The insistent tempo creates a sonic tension that makes the vocals seem out-of-sync. There is a sense of urgency that washes over Autumn's understated and quietly nuanced singing. :
The minor chords and the E-string riff create a tonal landscape that suggests the something is not quite right. Autumn is a seeker and his inner work reveals both joy and sorrow. It is a resolution of a brief love affair and an acceptance that comes from living life without prescription. He appears more in tune with himself and more confidant to get up close and personal with difficult themes. Autumn's idiosyncratic vocal is reminiscent of Sal Valentino of The Beau Brummels:
I met you Baby way down South, the Gulf Mexico
We talked about Sylvia Plath; you never want to end up that way
But soon you said, you gotta go, you gotta get home to the boys
I'd best get on my way
Ghost in the Night is incredible exercise in vocal gymnastics. Autumn sings the first verse deep and low like an alpha male - the great protector. His falsetto emerges in the second verse - the ghost. The ancient waltz-time tempo is a perfect backdrop to the ensuing battle between good and evil. All the clichés are included. The Raven signals danger with a tongue planted firmly in its beak.
Autumn wears the cloak of the singer/songwriter on Hold onto that Rose. It's a quiet contemplative ballad with a minimalist arrangement and an economical use of slide guitar. In Andy Reed's masterful hands the slide sounds more like a pedal steel. It's a song about a doomed long distance romance with a man who carries a heavy load of regret and longing. It is a compelling image that sticks with you long after the song ends
Somedays You Just Don't Like has a cool pub sing-a-long vibe and a working class hero ethos. The dark images in the lyrics are balanced by an impertinent humor and more than a little acceptance of things you just can't change. Autumn and producer Andy Reed add-in some Al Kooper organ, complete with Dylan references. Autumn's mature dialectical lyricism is first-rate. He snatches hope from the grip of despair.
Autumn has learned a vocal subtlety and understated emotional cadence that conveys a growing maturity. He's a confident singer who s willing to take chances. His voice can smile and grouse. Autumn's capable of just about anything. When Sylvia Sings is a sultry piano ballad that recalls McCartney in is his Beatles days. Lyrically he holds both love and regret. His lyrics are stark, elusive yet beautiful. Whispering Beach Boys harmonies capture the melancholy in the back of the musical canvas.
Autumn sits back and watches the drama unfold in Where the Canyons They Hug You. It's a type of rock & roll celebrity expose' with a rollicking 2/4 beat that snaps off an irresistible rhythm. California sunshine, the luscious Pacific Ocean, migrating whales and Sana Ana winds are the soundtrack to the lives of the beautiful people that inhabit luxury mansions. No one is immune in the golden state. The nouveau rich and the old moneyed mafia embrace the god of excess in equal measures of narcissism and ennui. It's a rollicking Dionysian stew. There are hints of The Band and Badfinger in this incredible opus. This is Autumn at his best. It has an autobiographical feel and seems to capture the tension between light and darkness in the mythical California culture. He reveals the truth about west coast cool. It's not that bad. Autumn sings… You take your fancy cars up the Hollywood Hills; I take my cup of coffee in the Canyons where I can breathe. You take your designer pills, ain't nobody can afford, I take my sleepy town where nobody knows my name.'
The Company You Keep is another musical travelogue of the Golden State where “everyone hear wants your drugs and your money.” The cool fuzz tone guitar and 4/4 beat of the tom/toms give the song a psychedelic vibe that evokes the ghosts of Big Brother & the Holding Company and recalls a brief time in our history when the counter culture had a voice in our national consciousness. I can see Janis Joplin standing on the corner of Haight & Ashbury. But it was only a dream and the nightmare soon followed. Autumn is singing about the downside of California Dreaming. This is a totally realized piece of music. Autumn's gritty vocal is a highlight.
Despite the obscure title, Training to Bee a Boxer shares several well-known 50's references such as Peggy Sue, knickers, and boarding school, and the Blue Canary (Dinah Shore). It's a majestic anthem of love and forgiveness layered by heavenly Beach Boys harmonies. Autumn sings of passion, never getting used to those damn knickers and losing your way. The coda contains a seething organ trill and a major chord statement on the piano. The outro is almost another song. It's a perfect ending:
All you ever wanted was to feel Love around you
But no one saw the message that you scrawled No, No, No
In the auditorium you lost your way
Your scars will guide you through
In your tin cup bedroom, Well you dreamed all alone
All those feelings made you feel so blue
In this Universe there is a place for all to Bee
Let Love in & you will see