Achingly beautiful melodies as a cure for the restless blues Orenda Fink’s sophomore album leaves behind the sonic experimentation of her debut LP, Invisible Ones. Ask the Night is, instead, a nod to the singer’s Southern roots in a pared-down combination of guitars, strings and banjos that harkens back to another era: “Sister” showcases a clanging piano in a Frontier saloon, and “The Garden” is driven by the mournful violin of a Victorian folk song. What results is a deliciously melancholic mixture, epitomized in “Why is the Night Sad,” which laments, “And you know that you’re not safe here, through any crack in the floor, the water pours.
When Azure Ray disbanded in 2004, Orenda Fink had little trouble regaining her balance. The songwriter had already juggled multiple bands during her golden years with Maria Taylor, and she continued bouncing from project to project after the split, exploring Haitian music with her 2005 solo debut and wrapping herself in lush pop arrangements during her lone album with Art in Manila. Released several years later, Ask the Night finds Fink in a rare state: restful, leisurely, and unadorned.
Saddle Creek’s one time reigning queen Jenny Lewis has made a name for herself by transforming herself from indie front woman to ‘70s California country-rock siren over the course of two solo albums. While Lewis is completely competent of selling her roots-heavy outings, Azure Ray member Orenda Fink has carved a similar niche on Lewis’ former label, and done so with equally astonishing results. If Fink’s first solo outing, Invisible Ones, hinted at the musician finding her own ground in a new territory, her newest release, Ask the Night, full-out embraces and expands on a singular, artistic identity.
Ask the Night is Orenda Fink's second album of 2009, the first being O+S, a one-off collaboration with the Scalpelist (aka Cedric LeMoyne of Remy Zero) via the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in Omaha. That album took her outside of her comfort zone, setting her vocals in ever more intricate soundscapes and tempering its shortcomings with a see-what-sticks experimental approach. Ask the Night was recorded in Omaha and Athens, Georgia-- two of Fink's old haunts-- and written partly with fellow Alabaman Chris Lawson, a Birmingham poet and artist who designed the album cover.