A Little Orchestra: Clocks
Vollwert Records

As indicated by its charming debut album, A Little Orchestra is one of those classical outfits that seems more comfortable playing its tunes in the English countryside than the formal symphony hall. Listening to the group's eleven-track collection (the follow-up to an earlier 2013 EP Josefina) is an absolute pleasure, especially when it mixes things up by juxtaposing instrumentals with a generous number of vocal songs. While Clocks features three new compositions by Monster Bobby (ensemble conductor, pianist, and percussionist Bobby Barry, who formed the outfit in 2010), it also includes collaborations with Haiku Salut, Model Village, and a host of others, a move that makes A Little Orchestra (armed with four violins, and viola, cello, flute, clarinet, bassoon, and piano players) feel more like a friendly club than a standoffish organization.

The chamber orchestra make-up of the group works to its advantage as it allows the individual instruments' voices to come through clearly, something immediately evident in the stately instrumental opener “Clocks, Part 3” where the flute and clarinet playing is clearly audible amidst the strings. A Little Orchestra's music occasionally reveals an influence or two, as there are moments when composers such as Michael Torke, Steve Reich, and Michael Nyman surface in the album. In fact, the lovely “Clocks, Part 2” could pass as a Torke homage, given its emphasis on bright woodwinds and percussion, while “Footprints in Snow” (written by Andy Hudson of Pocketbooks and featuring vocals by Emma Winston) exudes a theatrical stateliness that recalls Nyman's Prospero's Books.

The collaborations are true collaborations, as opposed to the orchestra being used as a mere add-on. A wistful quality comes through during the Múm-like “Train Tracks for Wheezy,” the collaboration with Haiku Salut, especially during those passages where glockenspiels and accordions are prominent. In the respective songs “Josefina” and “Wild Beasts,” vocal contributions by Model Village and Apple Eyes are deftly embroidered into the orchestra's intricate arrangements. The same applies to the vocal symphonic-pop lullabies “The Permanent Way” (featuring Darren Hayman), “Treacle, You Should Probably Go To Sleep” (with Simon Love), and “Pightie 21” (with Lisa Bouvier), as well as the traditional folk-styled “East Coast” (with Gordon McIntyre). In such cases, A Little Orchestra shows it's as comfortable playing breezy pop and folk tunes as formal classical music. It goes without saying that the group's refreshing and unpretentious sound is well-served by this thirty-eight-minute collection.

July 2013