The Orchard is Michael Brunnock’s most recent original body of work, though he is most widely known these days as a Piece of Shit.
The Pieces of Shit, as they are comically known, are the Talking Heads’s David Byrne, Will “Bonnie Prince Billy” Oldham, and Brunnock on vocals. They provide 6 out of the 17 songs on the soundtrack to the Paolo Sorrentino-directed film This Must Be the Place starring Sean Penn (and featuring Bono’s younger daughter, Eve Hewson), which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival and is now playing in general-release venues throughout Europe.
The Orchard, which holds a baker’s dozen songs, is the perfect blend of past and future. While the majority of the tunes are brand new, several are re-imagined versions of previous releases. “Circle” and “Sensation” have only been released as live versions, while “Soft White and Indigo” reaches way back in time to Brunnock’s days with Little Palace.
A version of “Change” was released as a single in 2008 prior to the presidential election, but even without that insight, it is clear that the song alludes to Barack Obama.
“Man Overboard,” which appeared on Brunnock’s successful solo debut from 2007, So I Do, received a complete overhaul of musical arrangement and appears as a humbled version of its predecessor.
That effect is metaphoric of the entire album: in the titular “The Orchard,” Brunnock sings, “Wandered bare like I was born. . .” The idea of birth or renaissance is replete throughout this album and touched upon in every song.
Civil rights are explored in both “Change” and “Untouchable,” a song about the bombing of Pakistan, which features the vocal talents of Glen Hansard (Once, The Frames, The Swell Season). His band mate Colm Mac Con Iomaire also appears on the violin in the beautiful folk ballad, “Down By the Araglin,” a song which looks across two generations to Brunnock’s grandfather, also named Michael Brunnock. Hansard provides additional backing vocals for “The Orchard.”
With “Hansel,” Brunnock moves out of the Orchard and into the woods in a dark, morose tale of full of anguish. “Hansel” tells the story of Hansel and Gretel from the fresh perspective of the father who has left them in the woods. It is infused with a tristesse such that it leaves one’s hair standing on end. Brunnock’s vocal style deviates from its usual sound to provide the perfect atmosphere for this brooding elegy. It is so dark that it almost doesn’t belong on the album, but it serves as the counterweight to an otherwise hopeful collection, redeeming itself at the end with a joyful-sounding chorus of children’s voices.
Contrast this dark tune with the upbeat “Every Step,” the bouncy, catchy first single with backing vocals from Mark Dignam and Fiction Plane’s Joe Sumner. Interestingly, Pete Wilhoit, also from Fiction Plane, provides drums on both this track and "Hansel."
A very special nod to the “world music” genre comes through the inclusion of a didgeridoo on the David Hopkins-produced track, "Wine."
The Orchard touches on heady topics such as what truly defines a man and what truly defines love – and it appears to come to the conclusion that love is a tool to allow us to find the strength within. This is an album about perseverance – about hope, change, and renewal. The lyrics show a mature and confident Brunnock emerging from adversity with a bright outlook: “Every step I make is the first and the last”
The Orchard is scheduled for release in early 2012. “Every Step” is available on CD Baby and iTunes.
More from Michael Brunnock:
Michael Brunnock Official Website
Michael Brunnock is currently on tour in Ireland, and his shows are the only place where you can purchase advance copies of the disc. Remaining dates are:
December 3rd, Saturday, O'Keefes, Clonmel,Tipperary, 11.30pm
December 4th, Sunday, Totally Irish, 98fm, Radio Show, Dublin, 8pm
December 6th, Tuesday, The Sugar Club, Dublin, 7.45pm
December 9th, Friday, Carlingford Heritage Centre, Louth,
...opening act by American songwriter Ari Hest 8pm
December 10th, Saturday, The Model, Sligo Town,
...supporting Declan O' Rourke 8pm