Kimball – Orange (2011)

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By Nick DeRiso

It’s tempting to get too comfy, as Kimball Gallagher dots Orange with a series of spare, acoustic guitar-driven ruminations. It’s never long, however, before this New York City-based Boston native has amped up his dark themes of life and loss into a gritty outburst of power-pop. That swirling noise, crackling with cathartic energy, ends up making the quiet moments that surround all the more striking.

Early on, Kimball brings together these two threads on “Sail to Isla” intertwining his penchant for driving folk and a more confrontational rock style. Here, he plays the guitar in quick, bright blurbs, underscoring the creeping worries that sit in the margins of every new adventure, and of every new relationship.

But, more often, he works either one side or the other.

Kimball begins by unleashing an edgy power-pop vibe in “She’s Got Reasons,” a clattering delight with perhaps his most concise and well-conceived solo. Meanwhile, “Breaking Down” starts out like an urgent blues stomp, but Kimball’s haunted vocal soon pushes the tune into a darker, more introspective atmosphere. At times, he approaches the gravelly menace of Tom Waits, then the edgy wail of Roger Waters, and then the raw fragility of Neil Young.

This descending sense of dread surrounds on “6th Floor,” a song that grows from whispery recrimination to full-throated tell off. Looking back at a lost love, Kimball’s character can’t get past the things that weren’t said, the feelings that weren’t shared: “Narcissism,” he finally surmises, “is the failure to love.” He then lets his mind wander through the convolutions of “Perfect Ambiance,” using a searching vocal and an ascending guitar structure to explore his own disconnected thoughts. “Away from You,” another sad-eyed lament, finds anger dissolving into an echoing, rockabilly melancholy. Kimball’s guitar solo then brilliantly blends the stoic formality of a country picker with this emotionally turbulent Middle Eastern tinge.

Just when you think you’ve got Kimball fitted for his snug little pigeonhole as a coffee-house folkie, however, he plugs in. “Pink Balloons,” a blast of sneaky fun, finds Kimball riffing on a childhood distraction. The rousing “I Won’t” is all plucky angles, as Kimball tells off a head-scratchingly complex girl: “Less and less, I’m surprised,” he growls, “as I realize you’re a girl with multi-personalities.” “Every Direction,” with a ringing acoustic alchemy reminiscent of the Byrds, looks back at the dreams that didn’t come true, asking hard questions about the slow death of youthful optimism. “Why can’t we believe,” Kimball asks, “in another heaven?” “I Want an Anthem,” perfectly named, echoes the messy aggression of the Replacements.

“Too Many Times” is a snippy interrogation, offered in a clinched-teeth murmur. “I keep hearing these allusions to your past,” Kimball sings, with an insistent strum. “I can’t keep from wondering if it’s just an allusion to an allusion.” As his character becomes more convinced of some past indiscretion, his voice rises to a red wail. “It’s happened too many times,” he adds, finally, then rips through the song’s opening theme a final time on the acoustic guitar. A pleasant contentment, at first, seems to surround “I Just Want You to Know,” with Kimball’s character encouraging another to be who they are, no matter the troubles at hand. And then he finally reveals the context: He’s letting go of a relationship, and still trying to find the proper context for everything welling up inside: “I won’t say I love you anymore, crazy eyes.”

The soaring “I Thought I Knew You” gives Kimball a long-awaited moment of emotional release: Hitting an insistent ostinato, he adds screeches and scronks before tearing off an Eddie Van Halen-inspired collection of lickety-split electric guitar phrases to send you on your way.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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