(Self-released, CD, digital download)
It took me a while to get around to Chris Dorman ’s most recent record, Sita. Released in late 2010, it’s been sitting on my desk for … well, you do the math. The songwriter moved to Vermont from Michigan relatively recently and, for one reason or another, I kept overlooking his album in my seemingly never-shrinking to-do pile. So before we dig in: Chris, I’m sorry, man. Sita is an intriguing gem of a record, long overdue for attention.
Dorman is a tough musician to pin down. You could file him under “folk” or, even less helpfully, “singer-songwriter.” But while those labels may work for iTunes — which has him somewhat egregiously under “alternative” — they don’t do much for us here. The thing is, dude’s kind of all over the place. In a good way. At times, he’s a fairly straightforward songwriter. Other times he’s bouncing around through sounds and styles, from art rock to indie folk to dreamily waltzing lullabies to — I’m not making this up — opera. But regardless of which sonic suit he dons, Dorman’s aesthetic is consistent, and his meandering approach somehow adds up to a splendid and cohesive whole.
Typically, this would be the part of the review where I attempt to give you a frame of reference, describing his sound by making comparisons to well-known artists. I know: It’s an overused music-scribe trick. But it can be helpful. That’s not the case here, though. I could tell you that “A Mind Full” kind of reminded me of early Felice Brothers, that “Miss Muse” made me think of Ezra Furman in his quieter moments, or perhaps Clem Snide’s Eef Barzelay. I could tell you that the aforementioned operatic track, “All You Are,” bears shades of Antony and the Johnsons. I could even point out that, on his website, Dorman was compared to Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. I’d then tell you that’s ridiculous. He doesn’t remotely sound like Vedder. But where does that leave us? I’ve just compared the guy to a bunch of artists who share few, if any, similarities. Some help I am, right?
So how about this? Chris Dorman sounds like Chris Dorman, a profoundly talented and ambitious songwriter who is something of a sonic chameleon. And Sita is as unpredictable as it is fascinating and rewarding, regardless of how you categorize it. And the next time a Dorman record comes across this desk, it won’t sit for long.
Chris Dorman plays the ½ Lounge in Burlington this Saturday, May 26.