Review: Sing For Your Lives – Vagabond Opera
Portland, Oregon’s Vagabond Opera serve up an abundant dose of old-fashioned Americana with their most recent release, “Sing For Your Lives”. Their style is of a rather oddball variety, though obviously that’s the intention. Their sound could serve as the soundtrack to a fantastic and vivid dream set at a carnival during the early 20th century. The music evokes images of gentlemen in top hats, overcoats, and canes and women with elaborate bun hairstyles and frilly lace dresses over top of corsets and petticoats. The sound is dark, yet often playful, and utilizes a host of instruments, time signatures, and melodies long since abandoned over the past 110 years or so.
Vagabond Opera hail from an area of the country famous for marching to the beat of a different proverbial drummer. The musical style they have cultivated could be described as many, many things, indeed – interesting and bizarre are as good as any other adjectives. Like the long gone festive days of cabaret, the musical cultures represented on “Sing For Your Lives” range from European to Middle-Eastern to the days of American Vaudeville, and everything in between. The passion for their music is quite evident from beginning to end, and sometimes when the artist is passionate enough, the enthusiasm spreads through the speakers into the listener. Such is the case for Vagabond Opera.
The songs play out something like a concept record, though this was likely not the intention. The ensemble’s use of the many obscure song structures and musical time signatures add depth and dimension to their eclectic, theatrical style. The lyrics conjure colorful stories full of flamboyant drama. Technically speaking, the music is tight, nicely orchestrated and impeccably executed. Vocally they have an excellent tenor in lead vocalist Eric Stern, and a special weapon in their resident soprano siren, Ashia Grzesik. The latter of the two does an excellent job in delivering some sultry vibes in cuts like “Beard & Moustache”. That same voice turns equally haunting in the droning “Lullaby,” giving the song palpable atmosphere. “The Last Dance” is as ‘traditional’ as they get in terms of formulaic songwriting. The title track, which is also the closer, is one of the more interesting tracks as far as tempo changes and vocal executions are concerned.
With all of that said, “Sing For Your Lives” is not going to be something for everybody, though that could probably be surmised by now. It is most definitely a group of creative energies working outside of the musical box, in all of its theatrical glory. Do not even attempt to check this release out with a closed mind. Rather, shut your eyes and create a cast of characters that might be included in a seedy, yet elaborate, carnival that operates with fuel from a corner of the mind that is slightly darker than your average traveling carnival circa 1900.