Likewise to Ben Glover's steady growth, the name of Neilson Hubbard started to exponentially expand as the production engineer on what seemed to be every other album churned out from a tightly knit community of progressive artists in Nashville. Admittedly, the third Orphan Brigade member remained the lower key figure, although it doesn't take too much effort to deduce that Joshua Britt is as active as anybody operating in this scene of songwriting, collaboration and music production.
So let's catapult things from that first listen to SOUNDTRACK TO A GHOST STORY to the first moment that Ben, Neilson and Joshua stand literally a couple of paces in front of me and present the epic music that has come to define The Orphan Brigade. A Tuesday evening in Birmingham's Kitchen Garden venue completed the cycle began in 2015, and now from informed sources, one ready to yield another full turn.
Kentucky, Osimo, Co. Antrim and Birmingham may not have too much in common, but synergy emerged and sealed a deal during the hour and half that the trio spent on stage (ok stage may be stretching the performing space a little, but a little imagination goes a long way). There may have been a heavy bias to the most recent album, TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, recorded in the close vicinity of Ben's Northern Ireland roots, but just listening and marvelling at the talent on show as the other records were dipped into, shone a whole new light of what The Orphan Brigade have achieved since venturing into the world of curating 'field music for the 21st century.
Every time I listen to songs from the trio's debut album based on the ghostly surroundings of an old Civil War residence known as Octagon Hall in Kentucky, thoughts go back to 2016 and taking a detour off I-65 on the way back to Nashville from attending the Forecastle Festival in Louisville. Result, Monday was the day this tourist attraction closes. Never mind, when in Kentucky next is ironically mused! To remind me of that time and that album, the guys paid tribute with tremendous versions of 'Pale Horse', 'Trouble My Heart (Oh Harriet)', 'I've Seen the Elephant', 'Sweetheart' and 'We Were Marching on Christmas Day'. All perfect reminders to what a fine album dropped into the inbox back in 2015.
Although we had some detailed descriptions and observations of The Orphan Brigade's second venture in the depths of subterranean Osimo in Italy, memory restricts to just two songs shared on the evening - 'Alchemy' and 'Flying Joe'. As the second is the finest track on HEART OF THE CAVE, and the owner of possibly The Orphan Brigade's most fascinating story, it was a case of job well done and further proof that the band are masters of the catchy singalong as well as the interpretative deeper material.
The bulk of TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD made the setlist from opening shots of 'Under the Chestnut Tree' to Neilson doing his best John Prine interpretation on 'Captain's Song (Sorley Boy)'. Maybe the choir from Ben's old school in Glenarm didn't make an appearance, but the power of songs such as 'Mind the Road' transported all the way from the Emerald Isle over the water to England's second city.
Concluding thoughts on seeing The Orphan Brigade live ranged from wasn't Joshua's mandolin playing breathtaking, you would have to travel a long way to hear better vocal harmonies that what was heard tonight, to despite the obvious charismatic presence of Ben Glover as the centrally positioned lead, this is 100% a balanced equilibrium of musical chemistry. We already knew that Neilson Hubbard was more than just an exceptional producer when he occasionally hits the front like with his solo album of last year, but we now have first hand evidence of his musicianship prowess.
Orphan Brigade IV? don't bet against it, indeed pile your money on. This trio are far from done regardless to where the solo plans lie. Another location will need to be found, but vast treasures await in countless places. We trust The Orphan Brigade to uncover them, present them and hopefully bring the fruits of another venture back to premium listening venues on this side of the pond. Over to you guys, a patient loyal and dedicated crowd awaits.