Roy Orbison is one of the legends who is part of my musical consciousness, and has been my entire. But if you were to ask me what kind of music he made, I wouldn’t have an answer for you. First generation rock and roll? Country? Crooning standards? I’d believe anyone who told me he fit into any of those categories. But I feel like I should have a better sense of someone who is one of those legends who has been part of my musical consciousness my entire. Which is what I was hoping to get via In Dreams.
Lush strings, a country rolling beat, and crooning vocals, the opening, title tracks is a tender and beautiful introduction to this album. It also does nothing to help me categorise Orbison in any way. It’s several genres being crammed to together, and none of them suffer from that cramming.
With Lonely Wine, I started to wonder if it was Orbison’s voice, and Orbison’s voice alone, that made a song a Roy Orbison song. Genre, style and instrumentation seem interchangeable, it’s the man on the mic that makes the difference. Because on the surface this could be any 60s ballad by any Elvis imitator, but there’s something to the Big O’s voice that makes it so much more than that.
The refusal to be pigeonholed continues with Shahdaroba. It could be a trail song in an old western, the verses could be the theme song to a 60s James Bond movie. With its flamenco guitar, Dream starts off sounding like a standard ballad, until its angelic backing chorus makes it sound like the kind of song you’d hear in a classic Disney movie from the 30s or 40s.
Orbison and In Dreams mix things up again with the military, driving drums and precise horns of (They Call You Gigolette), before getting to an early rock and roll standard with All I Have to Do is Dream. And while it might be a staple, once again, Orbison’s voice makes it a totally new interpretation.
So, now that I’ve listened to an entire Roy Orbison album, if you were to ask me what kind of music he made, I still wouldn’t have an answer for you. In Dreams covers first generation rock and roll, country, crooning standards and more. Sometimes it does them all in one song. But when musicians are as good as Orbison and his backing band, what could be erratic and unfocused just becomes a showcase in versatility.