Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Chip Robinson Is Back Like He Never Left

Chip Robinson got his start in the early 90s in careening Raleigh alt-country rockers the Backsliders, but he has not been dormant since. His new solo album Mylow is a lot different, a lot more diverse and it’s excellent all the way through. It’s sort of the missing link between Steve Earle and Richard Buckner, a mix of bruising, overdriven, twangy rock and rueful ballads. Robinson has an ear for a catchy hook, a memorable riff and a striking lyrical image to go along with a wry sense of humor. The rueful title track is definitely the best song ever written about a rabbit (it was an ex-girlfriend’s pet: she got custody). “Keep your chin up,” he tells the missing rodent, “I’ll keep my chin up too.” Another regret-tinged ballad admits that “The day I fell in love with you, I pissed off my wife and my girlfriend too.” The doomed romance of Story unwinds with two diverging points of view: he remembers whisking her across the dancefloor; she remembers him getting so loaded he couldn’t remember a thing. And the bizarrely compelling album intro, spoken word over oscillating distorted guitar noise, tells the tale of a guy who went down into a hole for “three long years” – but the drugs, and everything else, couldn’t kill him. And then it morphs into a faux-heroic tv theme type melody.

The rest of the album is a lot more serious and intense. Especially its best cut, Bee Sting, its battered narrator alternately distracted and smitten, “All my bridges burned just ashes in the wind, try to find the short way home.” Robinson works those images for all they’re worth over a fiery river of guitars, like something the Replacements might have done if they hadn’t been so sloppy all the time. The most Richard Buckner-ish track here is Wings, an alienation anthem with some hypnotic accordion work. Closer to the Light is a pretty ballad with the tasty layers of acoustic and electric guitars that you find on most everything Eric “Roscoe” Ambel produces (he also frequently plays shows with Robinson at Lakeside Lounge). That track has some distant Beatles allusions, which come front and center on the big ballad A Prayer Please, right down to a juicy George Harrison-esque guitar solo. The goodbye anthem Start is metaphorically loaded and vividly bitter; there are also a couple of roaring, Stonesy rock anthems here to pick up the pace, along with Mylow Sleeps, a lullaby for the missing bunny. There’s a lot to sink your teeth into here, lyrically and musically: an ipod album for sure, and one of 2010’s best, a welcome return to the studio from a guy who never went away but might have fallen off a few people’s radar in the years after the Backsliders broke up. Watch this space for upcoming NYC shows.

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August 31, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 2/21/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Sunday’s song is #158:

Richard Buckner – Lil Wallet Picture

She backs up the U-Haul and within minutes he’s gone out on Route 95:

That takes so many lives
One of them was mine
Hand me that little wallet picture from 1985
One more time

The indie songwriter’s best song, from the Devotion and Doubt album, 1997.

February 21, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Jay Bennett – Whatever Happened, I Apologize

What a harrowing way to start the new year. This cd hits you with a gale force, bitter, brutal and direct. Even if you try to get out of the way, Jay Bennett – the talented multi-instrumentalist who for all intents and purposes was Wilco until he left the band and Jeff Tweedy decided to become Brian Wilson – will still knock the wind out of you. Most of this cd – Bennett’s fourth solo album –  is just voice and acoustic guitar, occasionally embellished with organ and bass that are so good that you’re left wanting more. While the songs on this album scream out for a full band to flesh them out, even if this is as far as they ever get, that’s fine: they still pack a wallop. Stylistically, Bennett evokes Matt Keating or Richard Buckner in particularly energetic mode: this is smart, terse, gorgeously melodic Americana rock with equally smart, tersely unwinding lyrics. It’s a concept album about a relationship gone awry, spectacularly: this one was doomed right from the start, and if Bennett is to be taken at face value, it’s something of a miracle he got out alive.

 

The cd starts with a road song, just a bit of ominous foreshadowing in the same vein as the Wilco classic Far, Far Away (from the Being There cd), followed by the matter-of-fact, dismissive I Don’t Have the Time. Bennett knows there’s drama coming down the line and he wants no part of it. “I don’t have the good looks, but I know yours won’t last,” he caustically tells the woman. With the next cut, I’ll Decorate My Love, the genie’s out of the bottle, Pandora’s out of the box and all hell breaks loose, setting the tone for the rest of the cd:

 

There will be no profit in protection

Even when you’re walking miles in the rain

I will curse the day I met you

And you will curse the day I lost control

And there will be no reward for your actions

Even when you’re trying to save your lover’s soul…

You were down before me

 

The themes that recur again and again here are missed opportunities and wasted time (go figure), notably on the cd’s towering centerpiece, the big, crescendoing 6/8 ballad The Engines Are Idle:
 
The engines are idle and the trees are all bare

And the issues are clouded and hang in the air

The best part of the story is the part that you missed…

The best part of the record is the part where it skips

And she lost the lyrics and the jacket is ripped…

Cos it’s ageless and timeless but beauty must fade

And you looked so much better when the picture was made

 

The pace picks up and emotions reach a fever pitch on How Dull They Make the Razor: Bennett wants to wait this one out, but he ends up getting dragged in anyway:

 

It don’t matter how dull they make the razor

You won’t feel it when you’re dead 

 

On the next track, Without the Benefit of Sight, Bennett likens himself to a block of ice on a Chicago rooftop in early spring, loosened just enough to become deadly. Exasperation and despair take over center stage:

 

If you want to weigh me down there’s just one layer left

I’ve been repainted so many times it’s anybody’s guess

 

And that’s pretty much where it’s left. Bennett muses on how Hank Williams might have written this story, then throws up his hands and lets that work as a smokescreen: he’s through with trying to cut through the smoldering underbrush, and the songs follow suit. “I lost my best friend last night, I’m working on number two/Won’t you give me a chance cause your chances are through,” he warns on the stark, mandolin-spiced ballad Talk and Talk and Talk. The cd ends with a lament for the world as a whole – the relationship seems to be a microcosm of something far worse – and then with the understatement of Little Blue Pills, “that don’t make you ill – someday they will.”

 

Intensely personal yet not the least bit self-absorbed, this is the best thing Bennett’s ever done. And the best thing about it is that the cd is absolutely free: Bennett is giving it away as a free download at rockproper.com, click here and then hang on, this is not exactly easy listening.

January 5, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments