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Album Review: John Burke Climbs Musical Mountains in New Album “Orogen”

June 17, 2016

 

John Burke, acclaimed pianist and Atlanta native, released a new solo piano album at the

beginning of the month. The album was called “Orogen” after the belt in the Earth’s crust which

causes mountains to form. In Burke’s own words, the album “unveil[s] a symphonic mountain

range.” Though the album does offer a series of highs and lows, I wouldn’t compare the climb to

Everest.

The album starts off with “Arise,” a beautiful track with a warm opening - the high notes give

the track a feeling of brightness right away, which definitely was the perfect way to start the

album. Even though the track’s faster tempo leads into an incredible crescendo that leaves the

listener excited - like they could climb a mountain, the staccato beats at the end sound recycled

and add an unnecessary abruptness to an incredibly light track.

This sort of recycled nature comes back throughout the album. Though the layering of pitch and

tempo in each track as a separate piece is beautiful, the tracks don’t come together to create a

challenging album to listen to. For the most part, the tracks have a similar tempo and structure so

that, unless you’re actively listening for shifts in the melody, it all begins to blend together with

the exception of a few tracks.

“Spring Tides,” for example, is very similar in structure to the majority of songs, starting off soft

and slow, much like “Arise,” and, yet, Burke manages to capture an entirely different emotion.

Where “Arise” is bright happiness, “Spring Tides” is gentle whimsy. It sounds almost like a

track from the “Animal Crossing” series. It has this instantly calming effect.

The peak of the album, however, is in “Foot Traffic.” This, to me, is the track that really stands

out because it is the only track, with the exception perhaps of “Earth Breaker” which is also high

tempo, that breaks what ends up being a monotony of piano ballads. “Foot Traffic” feels so much

more crisp and more modern than the rest of the album. It feels like something out of a spy

movie, and anyone who’s lived in the city can tell you, going through Atlanta traffic sure can

feel like an action adventure.

While the album not being as much of a climb as he intended, Burke enjoys what he does and it

comes across in his music. There is no doubt that Burke has mastered getting emotion across in

his tracks. Even in his live performances, Burke maintains a huge stage presence despite never

leaving his seat. Burke’s energy certainly sets him apart, though, I would be interested to see

some more theatrical elements, like lighting changes between different tracks to highlight the

emotion, to add another dimension to the performance.

Top Tracks: “Foot Traffic”

Grade: B

Verdict: The album is solid technically but lacks an identity. To me, there is little to set it apart

from other solo piano albums, although we do see a bit of Burke’s personality and influences

coming through in “Foot Traffic.” Burke is a very talented artist, but I would love to see his work

embrace a more modern approach, not just modern stylings, in conjunction with his more

classical training.

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