Curious is available at:
20th February, 2015
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
Scott McKeon & Stephen Darrell Smith (C) 2015
The E.P. Water, Carry Me is available from 13th April. Pre-order at:
THERE seems to be some renewed optimism in the world of music…
and especially new music. Over the past few years, I have been fortunate enough to review some fantastic acts: many of who began quite nervously and unsure. My words and commendations have not (necessarily aided) the rise (of the now-successful acts) yet it is pleasing to see success- great musicians starting to get their ‘dues’. The industry is a hard and tough thing to conquer: every week, a slew of new bands and acts emerge from the cracks. There seems to be a sense of predictability coming through (still): there is not a great deal of superseding. Bands tend to be- in the mainstream at least- male-dominated/led; solo acts tend to get overlooked (by comparison). New musicians are going a long way to overthrowing this eventuality; making sure there is some unpredictability and momentum building. Having reviewed bands (for the last couple of times) it is great to come across an eager and much-anticipated sole voice: a singer/songwriter that is gaining some impressive acclaim. This year is going to see some exciting things happen in music: big legends like Blur and The Libertines are (producing new albums); some exciting sapling artists are starting to come through- terrific new sounds and possibilities are starting to present themselves. It is pleasing to see so many eager and ambitious musicians come through: with such a jam-packed scene, you wonder how many will ‘succeed’. It is not good enough to merely arrive with guitar in hand: a songbook to your chest; armed with ‘good intentions’. Those artists that stick in the mind are the ones that (go beyond what is expected): add personality, surprise and originality to their music. My featured artist knows this all too well: she is not a performer contented to put in the bare minimum; she is hard-working and endlessly plugs; her voice is distinct and memorable- her songs filled with wonderful insight and stories. Before I conclude this section/my point, I will introduce (Hannah Robinson) to you:
“Singer-songwriter Hannah Robinson’s blues-tinged vocals belies her age.
Performing as a soloist and with her band, in London as well as in her native Dorset, her busy live schedule sees her playing venues such as The Bedford and Salisbury Arts Centre, and festivals including Larmer Tree Festival and Purbeck Folk Festival.
2015 will see the release of ‘Water, Carry Me’, a brand new four track EP of original material, following her 2012 debut album ‘Oil and Turpentine’. In this, Hannah is working alongside musicians including Scott McKeon (Lana Del Ray, Tom Jones), Paul Beavis (Robert Fripp, Robbie McIntosh), Rob Mullarkey (Laura Mvula, Jamie Cullum) and Steve Smith (Sandi Thom, Robbie McIntosh), developing her sound.
Hannah’s songs blend her nonchalant, percussive guitar style with soulful melodies and lyrics full of personal experience and rich imagery owed to her art school education.”
With the likes of Sam Smith and Rae Morris- putting the solo realm firmly into the public consciousness- it is one of the most in-demand and in-vogue sectors of music: the band-led hegemony is in danger of being overthrown. For that reason, many young (sole) acts are coming through- all keen to win votes and linger in the memory. Robinson is an artist that strikes my ear immediately. Having reviewed (female solo acts) Little Sparrow, Jen Armstrong and Annie Drury, she ranks alongside them- armed with as much personality and potential (as that glorious trio). I prefer my music heavier (the likes of Soundgarden, Green Day and Pixies feature in my record collection) and my configurations four or five-piece. I have always wanted to fully embrace solo artists, yet seem to be seduced by the band concept- that ageless and overwhelming sound that does something primal and wonderful. Acts like Hannah Robinson go a long way to changing my views; giving me something fresh and much-needed- a mellifluous and sensual breeze. This country- in my biased and subjective view- is producing the best music in the world: our solo singers (in particular) are the most agile and effective of them all. Robinson is taking her very first steps, yet the (initial signs) are very encouraging: her online portfolio and social media numbers are rising; her fan-base augmenting and swelling- this year is going to be (a very prosperous one) for her.
Before I get around to reviewing her music (and the featured song), it is worth looking back at Robinson’s (previous work): seeing just how far she has come. Over the last few months- leading up to the release of her new E.P. – Robinson has crafted some (original and unexpected) cover versions- adding colour and new spins on old gems. If you listen to (her take on) the likes of Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright and Make You Feel My Love (both available on her SoundCloud page), then you can hear what I mean: such vitality and energy is injected into both numbers. A lot of new artists- when they cover other artists/songs- tend to offer little variation and surprise. Robinson does not tackle a song, unless she feels she can make it sound new- do something unexpected and different. I hope that- in addition to her new material- she continues tackling well-loved songs: giving her own inimitable take on them. A few years ago- back in December 2012- Robinson released her (debut album) Oil and Turpentine. That L.P. was the introduction of the young star: her first (fully-fledged) movements into the musical world. That album mixes lo-fi grit with Blues-tinged prowess: the entire album has a great live feel to it. Opening track Monster swings and sways: tinges of Amy Winehouse linger in (the most sensuous and impassioned) notes. Songbirds in the Afternoon possesses glorious woozy brass; plenty of emotion and personal insight- the young singer pours her heart out. Stay Quiet has more of an acoustic heart: it is a track that takes your mind somewhere special; its grace and gentility overcome the senses. The album is a testament to Robinson’s talent and determination: there are no loose edges and gaping cracks. The entire collection sounds natural and effortless: there are no nerves or need for improvement. Although there are signs of Amy Winehouse (and some classic Blues voices) within the music, the abiding take-away is originality: it is the young woman stamping her distinct personality. Songs crackle with vivid imagery and charming scenes; the vocals are compelling and gorgeous- the compositions are rich and nuanced.
If you a newcomer to Robinson, then you may be looking (towards her inspirations). On Facebook, Robinson lists her idols/influences as: Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, P.J. Harvey, Jeff Buckley, Dan Auerbach, John Frusciante, St. Vincent. Quite a list there! To be fair, there is a little (of each) within her glorious notes. That soulfulness of Franklin comes through (in her most astute and potent moments); St. Vincent’s etherealness and spellbinfing allure (has made its impact) and can be detected during Robinson’s softer times- Buckley’s grace and emotion make their way (into Robinson’s artistry). Just like all promising music acts, our heroine merely uses her idols as a jumping-off point: she does not lazily replicate their voices and sounds. Too many modern-day acts lazily toss-off a second-rate version of events- come across as bad tribute acts. When you want to grip imagination, and ensure long-term appeal, you need to be fresh and distinct- this is what Robinson does. Whether you look for ice-cool beauty and stillness; red-hot power and lust; some comforting warmer colours- you should look no further. With a voice filled with potential and range, Robinson is capable of owning any territory she likes- and this means her songwriting can be a lot nimbler and less confined.
The opening (plaintive and romantic strums) of Curious put me in mind of Jeff Buckley: specifically, his album Live at Sin-e. That album was recorded in New York (the Lower East Side) in a small café: and is one of my favourite things in music. Tearing through the likes of The Way Young Lovers Do and If You See Her, Say Hello; that distinct guitar sounds comes out- that relaxes the bones and kisses the blood. Curious peaks my interest (within 10 seconds) as it puts me in mind of my music idol- and the way he could captivate crowds were the mere fleck of his guitar. Our heroine’s mind- from the get-go- looks towards overcoming mountains; climbing peaks- and overcoming obstacles. One assumes these words are not to be interpreted literally: she has emotional and personal issues to overcome; determined to side-step and defeat anything in her way. Not allowing her voice to play second-fiddle, her strong and vibrant tones are right up top- seamlessly mixed into the fold to provide the most evocative emotional punch. Robinson’s curious travelogue talks the listener (away with her): her breezy alacrity is infectious and hugely additive. Reminding me of the Folk greats of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Robinson mixes vintage-cum-classic: injecting plenty of modern sounds and relevance into the track. Having covered Bob Dylan, our heroine clearly adores the Old Master: shades of his 1963 regency (The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan) come through clearly. In the same way (as the young) Dylan took you into a very personal and relatable style of music; Robinson showcases a clear talent for storytelling and description: her voice helps to highlight the clarity and detail in her lyrics. Asking her (unnamed lover) whether he will climb with her- come up that mountain- I started to re-evaluate my (earlier assumptions). The ambiguity that comes out- two lovers climbing a literal mountain? A duo sweetheart looking to subsume a difficult situation? – makes me think and assess. Our heroine looks out at the ocean (“that I’m curious to sail”): her sense of determination is unwavering and deterministic. Where the waves crash- and the “seabirds wail”- Robinson locks her sights: she knows where she wants to be (and who she wants to be there with). Whether she is assessing a current romance- or looking into fictional realms- each words drip with conviction and honeyed romance- it is hard to not be teased and shivered by that striking voice. Allowing her guitar to flesh out and emphasise the mood (and not encroach too strongly) the foreground is dedicated to the voice-and-lyrics combination- there is a U.S. flavor to proceedings. Like the great Country and Folk acts emanating from the U.S.A., Robinson has a little bit of Nashville in her blood- a distinct twang that comes through in some of the words. Effortlessly- and naturally- bridging American quirk with British recalcitrance, the young Siren (brings her music idols) into her own work. Curious is a borderless and indiscriminate song: it is ready for the U.S. markets, as it is the airwaves of Absolute Radio. Whereas George Ezra set the music world alight (last year) with Wanted on Voyage; Robinson provides a female counterpart. That album contained songs that took you across seas and countries- Budapest, Barcelona, Cassy O’ even) – Robinson has contours of Ezra. As much as I adore Ezra’s voice (few have those pipes!) and his style; Robinson is her own woman- it is hard to compare her with too many other songwriters. The contemporary elements (within Curious) will set her in good stead: and translate to multiple listeners and great approval. As the song reaches the half-way mark, Robinson is clutching her “ticket to the world”- and rolling onwards. Rolling the dice, our heroine takes a gamble on the world- she is curious to see the world; get out and enjoy the sights. Riding a crest of rhythmic lust and pace, the song never loses momentum: subtle shifts and about-turns keep the song unpredictable and mobile. The track has a terrific live feel to it- as though we are sitting alongside Robinson in a pub or café- yet the sound is full and uncompromising. The entire ‘band’ performance is tight and impressive: each instrument and note seems well-rehearsed yet loose- that juxtaposition of refined and relaxed adds huge clout to the song. The most impressive facet (of Curious) is Robinson’s nobleness and humility: she wants to share her curiosity (with her love); not simply set off on her own. Gripped by the will-they-won-they tug-of-war, the listener is left hanging a little- our heroine keeps everyone guessing for a while. For an artist so young, there is- towards the two-thirds mark- some sage and learned guidance: issues about mortality and seizing the moment are explored. It is said- by our heroine- whether you take a gamble in life (and just go for it) or wait for death to shove its hands down your underwear- the end is waiting for us. In a few words: why wait for the inevitable without making the most out of life (that’s the impression I get at least). Made bold by the promise of sea, sand (and foreign lands), Robinson seems bright-eyed and eager: she does not want to be hidden away and inside. Curious lives up to its title: the listener has a cliff-hanger left (at the end). Our young star has unveiled a tantilising insight- into her upcoming E.P. – and shows just how strong she is- here is a song that is simple yet hugely effective. In a marketplace with a lot of young artists coming through- it is hard to distinguish oneself from the throng. With new music providing multitudes of female and male solo acts, how do you separate the wheat from the chaff? I guess going to see live music (is a good start) and social media/music-streaming sites can be a minefield of webs and knots. A lot of success (for new musicians) comes when (people and critics) are in the ‘right place at the right time’- a zero-hour approach to success and stardom. Robinson provides plenty of prowess and personality; bags of quality and strength- I hope she has a (fairly easy) rise to prominence. Whether it is a few years away- or maybe a little longer- that recognition and accolade will arrive: there is no doubt about that at all. For all the cold night and dull days, Curious arrives just about the right time- her E.P. will be an early taste of summer (to make even the most anhedonic crack a wide beam).
Hopefully I have gone some way to assessing (fairly) Robinon’s potential and panache- if not, I duly apologise. Being laden with cold germs and worries, her music has provided me some solace and medicinal support- I have discovered a new artist (I will stick with for many years). As I stated (near the top of this review) I have always been a band man. My favourite song is by a band (Steely Dan- technically a duo I guess), my favourite album by a band (Radiohead); my all-time favourite band is, well… a band. In terms of voices, Chris Cornell and Thom Yorke are in my top-three- the lone warrior rarely features in my ‘all-time best’ lists. Robinson’s timeless beauty and intuition marks her out as a talent to watch: her songwriting and voice are strong enough to ensure she remains (in the public mindset) for years to come. With the likes of Laura Marling and James Bay offering something very distinct- the market is filled with lesser talent- the public is always on the look-out for something fresh and exciting. I adore my bands- and heavier movements- but always look for something gentler and inspirational- especially as we come into spring. Being in a position to (embark upon my own musical path), I am always looking about for contemporary influence: those acts that can help me with my own songs. Robinson seems a humble and modest artist: something with no airs and graces; a great respect for her fellow musician. This modest approach to music-making reflects through strongly. Curious is a step forward for the young artist: she is at her most confident and assured here. Whereas her debut album was packed with jewels and glistening tracks- I feel she has grown even larger and prominent. Cementing that early promise, Robinson (already) seems relaxed and assured- she knows exactly what her voice is; exactly who she wants to be. This assuredness does not equate to complacency: the young beauty has plenty of ammunition in her arsenal; a surfeit of new maneuvers and territory. I cannot wait to discover Water, Carry Me: it is going to get a lot of (dormant) tongues wagging. Having familisarised myself (with her fledgling work), I am deeply impressed by her progress: for one so young, Robinson shows great maturity and confidence. Before I conclude, I want to raise a key point: this year in music. With The Libertines promising a new album- if Doherty can keep his veins clean; if Barat can trust his brother-in-arms- and Blur promoting their Magic Whip like a bitch: I really hope it is a lot stronger than Think Tank! It seems like the mainstream is going to get a lot of credit. After a somewhat unimpressive 2014- Royal Blood seemed like the only real exciting new act coming through- this year is showing a lot greater promise. Too many people concentrate wholly on the charts: the radio darlings and the ‘popular’ choices. The most invigorating and wonderful musicians are plating underground: playing the local venues; rocking-out to a small selection of followers. Whilst it is impossible to promote ALL of the great musicians coming through; one should pay attention to acts like Robinson- she will be a festival headliner in little-no time (make sure you get involved now). The sun is shining; the cascading cold germs are starting to relent (slightly) – I do not have to work until Monday. To top it all off, I have come across a musician that has made me smile: surprised me (in a good way) and is stuck inside my head. If you are like me- and yearn to seek great solo music- or demand something special (in your music) then check out this young artist. If it comes down to a gun-to-your-head-decision: wait to see if the mainstream can take your breath away (without looking too hard) or stick with new music (and have to ferret to discover serendipity) then (because of the likes of Robinson), there is no doubt in my mind…
THAT will be a very easy choice.
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