Rich Robinson was not a happy bunny. A failed marriage, financial near ruin, the start-stop career of The Black Crowes, and a number of sudden deaths in his circle all left their mark on the man and his music. Now with new marriage, a new child and a career on the ascendant, Robinson has released 'Through A Crooked Sun' which serves as both a chronicle of his troubled past, and a pointer to a happier future.
Bob Dylan, said of his 'Blood On The Tracks' album: "A lot of people tell me they enjoy that album. It's hard for me to relate to that. I mean, it, you know, people enjoying that type of pain, you know?"
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Let's get one thing straight here - happiness and contentment does not always lead to great art. Be honest, you'd rather listen to John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band than 'Double Fantasy' (if you said 'Double Fantasy', get your coat...). Many of the greatest rock albums have come from a dark place; I'm thinking Neil Young 'Tonight's The Night', 'The Wall', plus the aforementioned Dylan and Lennon albums, to name but a few. Bare your soul and the music will flow like blood red wine, and here Robinson has laid down a fine vintage, combining a number of American musical styles, to create a musically varied set of songs.
Album opener 'Gone Away' sets the scene: its lyrics are a conversation with his inner self, chronicling his fall into darkness, and his search for a positive way out.
"I fell the distance of the deepest canyon drop, That's how you bleed sir, It took me years to climb back up to the top, That's what you need sir, Now I see the plains right in front of me, That's where you live sir, I hope to take it all the way to the sea, That's far away sir..."
The pain in some of these lyrics is heartbreaking. 'Falling Again' is a painful tale of lies, betrayal and breakup, whilst 'Standing On The Surface Of The Sun' is chillingly accurate in its portrayal of what it is like to be in the depths of a deep depression.
"I don't feel good today, Cause all my plans stopped living me, While my life slips away, Like standing on the surface of the sun..."
Despite all this soul baring, there are moments of light, in particular 'Follow You Forever', a love song so moving that its final verse brought a few tears to this old romantic's eyes.
"Now is the time for me to tell I'll have you always in my heart, Never to fade my love will go on and on, And follow you forever..."
Those words are so simple and direct, and really do hit the love bone; gorgeous.
The music itself is a fine example of American Blues. The predominant sound is basic rock band; guitar, bass, drums and keyboards, but the music is much more than bluesy rock and roll, as the album mixes up many different styles. There is blues, rock, grunge, a hint of country, and even some jazz thrown in for good measure. I hear hints of Little Feat, Neil Young And Crazy Horse, a pinch of R.E.M and a soupçon of Free.
Despite these influences Robinson certainly has his own 'sound', mainly through his uniformly excellent guitar playing. Rich handles guitar and bass, ably supported by Joe Magistro, drums and percussion, and Steve Molitz, keyboards. Vocally, Robinson is not the most powerful of singers, but his voice has a soulful, plaintive quality that really does do justice to his lyrics.
The track that best highlights the strengths of Robinson and his band has to be 'Standing On The Surface Of The Sun'. This magnificent song starts as a slow ballad with a great blues guitar intro, before morphing into a keyboard drenched epic, featuring a guitar solo worthy of any of the great southern rock groups. It's as fine an example of guitar rock as you'll hear all year!
The overall quality of the songs is high, and the album holds the listener's attention well, although a well played, but largely redundant version of Fleetwood Mac's 'Station Man' does slightly spoil the flow of the album. My only other minor gripe is the inclusion of the 'Llama Blues' EP as a bonus at the end of the disc, as to my mind they don't really fit stylistically with the rest of the music. It's nice to have these songs, but maybe as a bonus disc. Like I said, this is only a minor niggle and should not be taken as a criticism of the album itself.
In conclusion 'Through A Crooked Sun' is an album that deserves repeated listening, and is highly recommended to those who like their music to have heart, and I defy anyone with a soul not to be moved.
2. It's Not Easy
3. Lost and Found
4. I Don't Hear The Sound Of You
5. Hey Fear
6. All Along The Way
7. Follow You Forever
8. Standing On The Surface Of The Sun
9. Bye Bye Baby
10. Falling Again
11. Station Man
12. Fire Around
Bonus Tracks/Llama Blues EP
By The Light Of The Sunset Moon
Look Through My Window
Broken Stick Crown