Orleans [1973]

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Orleans were never a favorite of rock critics, who disliked the soft rock/pop/rock outfit for the same reason they disliked Chicago, America, Player, Pablo Cruise, and Firefall: They saw Orleans as unchallenging. That much is true; Orleans were never the most challenging band in the world. But then, they weren't trying to be. Orleans are what they are -- laid-back, congenial soft rock with occasional R&B influences -- and complaining about the lack of danger in their music is sort of like faulting a romantic comedy for not being as edgy as one of Martin Scorsese's film noir masterpieces. If you're going to honestly evaluate an Orleans album, you have to apply soft rock standards -- not hard rock standards, not punk and new wave standards, not P-Funk standards. And when soft rock standards are applied, one finds that Orleans' self-titled debut album of 1973 is a fairly promising, if imperfect and inconsistent, effort. The LP isn't without pedestrian filler, but its best tracks -- which range from the mildly funky "Tongue-Tied" to the anthemic, gospel-tinged "Half Moon" -- are quite memorable. Although Orleans are a soft rock/pop/rock band first and foremost, they aren't oblivious to soul and funk -- the cynical "Two-Faced World," in fact, combines pop/rock sensibilities with an awareness of Sly & the Family Stone. Orleans were never as funky as Stone or Tower of Power; for that matter, they weren't as gritty or soulful as Janis Joplin, who John & Joanna Hall wrote "Half Moon" for in 1970. But it is safe to say that an appreciation of soul and funk were among the weapons in the band's soft rock/pop/rock arsenal. This 1973 debut wasn't a blockbuster -- Orleans' big commercial breakthrough didn't come until 1975 -- but the soft rock fans who acquired the LP could hear Orleans' potential.

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