Talitha Rise – An Abandoned Orchid House
Sonic Bond/Coven Tree Records – 01 June 2018
At the breakfast table, I mentioned that I was to review an album by Talitha Rise. Across the muesli, I learned that Talitha is a name taken from the Bible, a story about Jesus raising a young girl from the dead. I long ago gave up worrying about what biblical knowledge dropped out of my memory, if ever it was there in the first place, but I did wonder – momentarily – why I could not recall such a distinctive name. A mystery? Well not really, but certainly something else to attract me to Talitha Rise’s new album, An Abandoned Orchid House.
The production is a collaboration between Talitha and Martyn Barker, drummer, engineer and producer. It is his drumming and production skills, working with Talitha, that have created this sound, at times rock, at times African, at times Gaelic. A melting pot.
There is an overall sense of loss in the songs across the whole album, a sense that becomes apparent from the opening track. Orchid House is not so much about death as about abandonment, and subsequent decomposition – “Count the hours of decay”. Departures are explored too in Incantation whereas the intervening Valley (with lyrics by Kathryn Williams) points out that whilst there are big changes, departures, there are many constants. Some things are consistent like the change from day to night to day but some things change forever and this is “always a shock”.
The Lake is a return to the same idea but is also one of three tracks with a clear thread of water running through, the others being Lifeboat and River. It was River that first brought me to the album whilst looking for tunes for another project. A relatively common theme across many genres, rivers work well as allegory. On one level this is about relationships, but the chorus of “Suwannee, Walla Walla, Lackawanna, Susquehanna” introduces other aspects. These are rivers of the US, some heavily polluted, who may be running out of time. Another really interesting thing about this track is that it is reminiscent of those albums of South African musician Johnny Clegg, of the period in the eighties/early nineties, a real mix, now subsumed. More of the melting pot.
I said earlier that perhaps there was a mystery here and in fact, there is, though it is more of a conundrum. In 2015 Talitha Rise was interviewed by Paul Cox for Totally PC (YouTube) when that name seemed to be given to the band which really only consisted of Martyn Barker and Jo Beth Young. An Abandoned Orchid House appears to be by Talitha Rise, one person, i.e. Jo Beth Young. Jo, when not being Talitha Rise, speaks on non-duality and works with people seeking a life of simple beauty and joy. This part of her life, as Jo, clearly mixes with the musician, Talitha, and we find it in overt references to spiritual and philosophical subjects, such as Hungry Ghosts, or “Inanna, Inanna, Ishtar oh Ishtar” in Valley, and in deeper themes within the lyrics.
This explains why I thought that The Abandoned Orchid House is a much deeper and richer album than considered at first listening. It is full of personal loss, searching and eventual recognition, survival and even revelation. It is also full of broader themes, themes that are reflected in the often expansive production. This is certainly a move away from my usual preference. Here there is no intimate voice and simple guitar. Here there is big production, broad strokes, painting on a grand scale; not a miniature nor even a small portrait but one of those large canvases that dominate stairwells in grand houses. Talitha’s voice can at times be small and crackly, though never frail. There is a strength in it, and thus in her. When it is given full vent there is much more than a suggestion that the owner can stand in even the deepest of pits of emotion and sing her way out. This is an album that rewards listening and rewards well.
Released on June 1st, The Abandoned Orchid House can be pre-ordered via Bandcamp: https://talitharise.bandcamp.com/album/an-abandoned-orchid-house-digital-pre-order