Ed Romanoff released his second album The Orphan King on February 23rd. The style is Americana; the musicians on the album (having worked with Springsteen, Sinatra and Paul Simon to name just the S’s) have CVs that mean the playing is a delight; and the producer is Simone Felice of Felice Brothers, Lumineers and Bat for Lashes fame. So you’re expecting something good from this album – and it doesn’t disappoint, hooking you in to strong melodies and great arrangements.
Two things hit me about the songs on the album on first hearing: Romanoff has an imposing voice which carries the songs artlessly; and there are captivating stories with some great one-liners in them. His voice has been likened to Kristofferson and that was what struck me on the initial play. But as you keep listening to the album, the voice might be in that country baritone territory but it has a much warmer feel to it. Even on love songs Kristofferson’s voice sounds like a gnarled barfly who might fight you at any time; Romanoff’s voice is smoother, it’s a voice that makes you pay attention, makes you listen with sympathy and interest to the tales he’s singing about.
The album opens with ‘Miss Worby’s Ghost’, the singer attracted to the ghost, fatefully kissed by her and himself left to wander eternally as a result. ‘A Golden Crown’ is a song contrasting the life of the prize fighter knocking down all-comers with “Annie at my side for every fight” only to be ‘knocked out’ himself by Annie leaving him. There is hope at the end though as a new love comes into his life.
The next track, ‘The Orphan King’ lists experiences that also would knock a man down, but always comes back to the refrain “I still believe in love” – and you have this sense throughout the album of optimism. Whatever hits you get in life, there’s a way of moving on to the future. So, similarly, the single ‘Without You’ tells of break up but the tune is jaunty and the chorus is about getting a new way of living.
‘Leavin With Someone Else’ is perhaps the best track – lively tune, a vocal that is understated but slips into Orbison-falsetto at times, and a very clever lyric about an ex-girlfriend leading to the conclusion “I saw you leavin’/Oh excuse me I thought you were someone else”. It’s a close run thing, though, because ‘The Ballad of Willie Sutton’ is also a cracker. It is both tense and yearning, the hero released from prison after robbing banks (in his mind, for love) but building to a damning conclusion that more men have been robbed by a pen than a gun and “the crime that’s worse than robbin’ a bank/Is runnin’ one”.
‘Less Broken Now’ is classic Americana with slide guitar, rising backing vocals, fiddle and brass and with a classic Americana couplet “I guess it had to get bad as it did/To feel as good as this does”. ‘I’ll Remember You’, ‘The Night Is A Woman’ and “Blue Boulevard (Na Na Na)’ are quieter, more from the slow country tradition, but Romanoff’s voice makes them into something strong.
‘Lost and Gone’ is a beautifully elusive song, which I still can’t get to the heart of – is it personal? Is it a reflection on the American Dream in Trump’s America? You think you know the song’s stance, but it’s elusiveness means it has questions not statements “Will we rise or fall/If for every problem we build a wall/Or don’t the words of war alarm you”. There is similar equivocation in ‘Coronation Blues’, more obviously Trump’s America but similarly clever songwriting, because it understands the subject with depth as well as subtlety.
So, Ed Romanoff The Orphan King: I suspect I’ll be still be playing the album for years to come – a voice that makes you pay attention to the songs; lyrics that have great one liners, that play subtlety with their imagery and that get inside the heads of their subjects; great musicians and great production. I’ve played this album a dozen times and I’m still finding new things in it. The video link below takes you through the whole album. Have a listen.
Artist’s website: https://www.edromanoff.com
‘The Orphan King’: