Paper – Rich Robinson

Label: Keyhole Recordings

For me the free-wheelin’ spirit of the 70s was best illustrated not by the self-conscious pogoing of punk, nor by the jerky post-modernity of new-wave but by gruff-looking men in beards, swinging their generous denim flares as they stood en masse singing songs about last trains running and hotels in California. – a fantasy as far removed from British Rail and Travelodges as their grizzly mutton chops were from decency. And these spaced-out mountain men had names too; names like The Doobie Brothers, Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Boz Scaggs, Steely Dan, Bob Seger. It wasn’t just the boozy tragic rock destinies and clumsy plane crashes that made attracted me, it was the freedom of expression afforded by their barely indistinguishable brand of light-progressive, sometimes psychedelic rock whose only intent it seemed was to get you to wind your window down on your Ford Escort and let the cool Manchester air flow over your face as you cruised to the Co-Op and back on a testy Saturday afternoon with a four-pack of Colt 45 in a bag all ready for putting in your Ma’s larder for cooling.

But there’s evidently someone else who shares my fondness for this period:  erstwhile Black Crowes guitarist and songwriter, Rich Robinson who releases his first solo album ‘Paper’ this Autumn.

After 13 years and seven albums crafting the scruffy alt-country pop for the Crowes, Robinson found himself rehearsing a dozen or so newly written songs on the road with hastily cobbled four-piece band Hookah Brown which hit the road in the early months of 2003. And with 14 tracks whittled down from 22 of a possible 30, Robinson next hit the studio, playing the guitar, the bass parts, percussion and occasional keyboards in a do-it-yourself recording period in the Meat Packing district of Manhattan, just down the cobblestone road from the Hog Pit Saloon – in an abandoned school building. What was the result? A bare-knuckle, rootsy bluesfest of seismic proportions that’s as grizzly as a Doobie Brother and as dense as molten-lava.

From the leaden pychedelia of the weary ‘Places’ to the whimsical, hippy carpet ride of ‘When You Will’ the album perfectly preserves the spirit of a hard and analogue past with unapologetically prolonged intros, curiously protracted solos and as thick as treacle four-part harmonies. ‘Oh No’ recalls the oddball, folk craziness of Jethro Tull and Lindisfarne, and ‘Enemy’ the nasal, sprightly caterwaul of Joe Walsh; chiming, crunching guitars, rolling bass and cantankerous, boozy clutter. ‘Know Me’ even has moments of giddy, energizing rock purity, goddammit.

Considered initially as a double album or as two quick-fire releases, it’s fair to say that Robinson has erred on the right side of caution. It’s a good album, but for those of you who do not good time travellers make, it’s a lot to take on at once. Having said that, me and my grizzly own mutton-chops are up for a return journey anytime, ourselves.

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Release: Rich Robinson - Paper
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Released: 21 September 2004