Thursday, November 3, 2011

Rich Robinson: Through a Crooked Sun

Rich Robinson’s second solo album, Through a Crooked Sun, “is all about getting through things, starting on a new path, looking forward,” the co-founder of the Black Crows told Spork in a recent interview. The release comes on the heels of a rocky stretch in the artist’s life that included a divorce and a pair of hiatuses for his band, and its lyrics and music convey the wisdom, maturity and confidence of a man who’s better for having gone through them. It’s the kind of record that would feel good to play over and over during hard times.
In the album’s opening track, “Gone Away”, Robinson takes the bad medicine straight, singing an unambiguous call and response with himself: “I fell the distance of the deepest canyon drop/ That’s how you bleed, sir/It took me years to climb back to the top/ That’s what you need, sir.” From there, the lyrics take turns through self-reflection, philosophy and spirituality, never shying away from the negatives of life but never giving in to them fully either. “Bye Bye Baby” is full of metaphors of loss – curtains falling, birds dropping from the sky – and is punctuated with the question, “Is this world done with me?” But the query isn’t sung in the sorrowful tone of a person who is about to throw in the towel. It’s a rhetorical question; the answer is clearly “no.” In “It’s Not Easy,” “Hey Fear” and “Follow You Forever,” he stands tall with insights about materialism, emotional vulnerability and family.
The album’s positive vibe is affirmed by the mood of the music. The twelve songs on this album feel much more fully developed than those of his first solo album, Paper. They’re unrelentingly beautiful and at times magnificent, each with a foundation laid sturdily with acoustic guitar and honest vocals and adorned with layers of electric guitar, pedal steel and organ that build to peaks of emotion. They were recorded in Woodstock in January and February of this year at a studio on a 12-acre farm with llamas and horses all around, and the record reflects the laid-back beauty of the surroundings. “All Along the Way” is particularly gorgeous, with veils of pedal steel drifting throughout and a rapturous solo by Robinson on a B-Bender to close it out. Same with “Hey Fear,” except here the core melody and rhythm are more emphatic, and the build-up is to a tapestry of electric guitar solos. Joe Magistro plays drums throughout, and there are also appearances by Larry Campbell, who played for many years with Bob Dylan, John Medeski of Medeski, Martin and Wood, and Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, the Allman Brothers and the Dead. “This is the third album I’ve recorded in Woodstock,” Robinson says. “It’s beautiful up there. Very pleasant. Very creative vibe. Recording this album was a great experience.”
Robinson was a lot more relaxed while working on this album, he says - more sure of himself and where he wanted to take the music. “I felt much more at ease making this record,” he explains. “It flowed much more than Paper.” And while the there are no immediate plans for the Black Crowes to record again and tour, Robinson seems to feel quite good about being his own man.  “It’s my vision,” he says. “It’s what I want to see and hear. It’s a chance to play with other people. It’s cool to get out and work in a different way.”

Rich Robinson will perform live at Twist and Shout Friday, November 4, at 6 pm.

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