[29 April 2008]
The hardcore vinyl record collectors at Shadoks Music would have you believe that they’ve unearthed a gem in early 1970s San Bernadino band Instant Orange. They haven’t, but the disc at least makes for an interesting listen. Co-frontmen Terry Walters and Randy Lanier founded Instant Orange and kept the band alive for seven off and on years, with a rotating cast of other players. During that time, the group produced a couple of singles, an album, and two EPs. Those releases was pressed independently, with only 100 copies of each ever produced (save for their first single. Walters says they were talked into ordering 300 instead for that one, and that they didn’t let it happen again.) None of the members went on to make a career out of music, so it’s not really a surprise that the band was more or less forgotten until now.
Terry Walters admits in the detailed liner notes that he and Randy Lanier’s main touchstones were ‘60s folk-rock bands like the Byrds and Love. This is apparent throughout the disc, as the jangly sound of the 12-string electric guitar dominates many of the songs. The music is catchy enough, but neither frontman really had the vocal or lyrical ability to make the band come alive as a solid successor to their influences. In fact, the vocals on the band’s album Five Year Premiere are mixed so softly that they’re tough to make out, although this is not a problem on the singles or EPs.
The band really comes alive when it tries things outside the folky comfort zone. The banjo-and-kazoo instrumental hoedown “Cycle II” is highly entertaining, and the harder-rocking “Silent Green” has an energy the rest of Five Year Premiere is missing. The group’s two singles also prove successful. The poppy “You I’ll Be Following” has the band’s strongest hook, and with a producer and better singer, I could see it getting radio play back when it was released in ‘68. The second single, released in 1973, has the fun and bouncy country tune “Same Old Thing”, and features the best singing in Instant Orange’s discography.
The band’s latter-day EPs, one released in 1974 and the other in ‘75, showcase a broadening sound and a full-time keyboard player, Joe Bianchi. The ‘74 EP opens with the meandering rock song “Suburban Pictorial Abstract”, but goes into boogie blues for the aptly-named “20 to 6 Bianchi Boogie”. The 8-minute instrumental jam “Theme From Beat Whistle” closes out this release. It’s a jazzy and engaging song that features some really strong keyboard and guitar solos, and musical changes. The 1975 EP was the band’s final release. Its songs find the band trying more new things, from the darker “Paper Lay” to the piano-driven bluesy “Skyline”. “Flight of the Mary Celeste” sounds like the band had been listening to its ‘70s contemporaries with story-based lyrics and fuzzed-out guitar solos.
Instant Orange is an exhaustive historical document. Besides the music, the extensive liner notes contain a history of the band and the story of how the people at Shadoks discovered their records, and decided to re-release them. The notes also contain many photos of the band and the original records, as well as the dates of their live performances. Instant Orange itself was not a great band, but was at least pretty good, and fans of ‘60s folk-rock and jangle pop may find a lot to like here.