Somewhere between [a]Tindersticks[/a] and [a]Belle & Sebastian[/a], there’s the Justin Lewis Orchestra. Sounds like a tantalising concept, doesn’t it, a delicate balance between string-stabbing histrionics and soft acoustic trembles?
Well, they almost pull it off. Justin Lewis, the hefty bald crooner hidden behind shades and a wry smile, is surrounded by eight other alterna-jazz conspirators, and all of them are attempting to tease out urban theme tunes from their menagerie of instruments. The theory – which has seen these youthful hep cats signed to Grand Royal – is a kind of Tim Buckley-esque jazz-folk-soul music, driven by Bennett Holland‘s rollicking piano rhythms and a cascading string’n’horn section. The reality, though, is that most of these songs sound like brave but hesitant attempts to rewrite ‘Shipbuilding’.
On their newly released debut single, ‘Made Us, Make Us’, the desire for an atmosphere of late-nite grandeur overwhelms the production, as rock dynamics swamp complex arrangements. Tonight, during their first London show, they’re looser, with violins swimming and drums simply playing with occasional backbeats. Songs like ‘To Dream Away’ and ‘Night Bar Blues’ tap into a more unstable, Tom Waits-ian groove.
A strong, distinctive voice binding it all together might have made us sure that this band were worth staying with. But Justin’s ill, and his vocals are all over the place, forcing us to hedge our bets. When he’s back to full strength, his orchestra could be a truly interesting proposition.