SOLACE FOR THE LONELY • Robinella
Eclecticism is a tough row to hoe for any artist, but especially a musical one. Audiences tend to respond more readily to a narrowly-focused, easily-pigeonholed vision. In other words, they want their jazz bands to play jazz, rock bands to play rock, bluegrass bands to play bluegrass, etc. Sure there are a select number of open-minded listeners who appreciate whatever the artist has to offer as long as it is good, but for mainstream success it generally behooves a performer to concentrate on one genre at a time.
Robinella and friends have flown in the face of such "wisdom" for a while now. Under the moniker Robinella and the CC String Band they produced three records that skittered merrily from country to blues to pop to jazz. What loosely held them together was the utter distinctiveness of the singer's sexy, supple vocals, and the engaging mix of husband Cruz Contreras' mandolin, and brother-in-law Billy's fiddle, with electric guitar, and upright bass.
Having stumbled across their last record, seen them on Mountain Stage, and being something of an eclecticist myself, I fell in love with the tasteful picking, and of course that voice: part Rickie Lee Jones, part Dolly Parton, a hint of Billie Holiday, and all Robinella Cruz. Too, I appreciated the consistent quality of the songwriting--no duds here.
Rather than simply offer more of the same, Solace For The Lonely pushes the variety show envelope even further, while simultaneously pulling the group's "kitchen sink" sound together through the brilliant production of Doug Lancio. The opener, "Break It Down," plays to their greatest strength by offering up a bluesy vehicle for Robinella's voice at its most confidently seductive. The title tune follows in a similar vein with dark tom-toms breaking into a catchy chorus, and introduces some of the ear candy that makes this a real recorded experience rather than just an attempt to capture the band live.
Track three, "Press On," does just that, with a Lanois-like atmosphere that bathes you in sonic ecstasy. Next, "Down The Mountain" hits the country groove, with Lancio managing to make it slot right in through some deft sonic touches. By the time the band gets down with its funky bad self on "Little Boy" you will be ready to accept them doing any kind of music they care to perform.
One can only hope that the popularity of artists who have successfully merged jazz, folk, and singer/songwriter sensibilities, like Norah Jones, and Cassandra Wilson, will open radio programmers' hearts and minds to Solace For The Lonely. It would be nice to think that in the Oughts eclecticism has ceased to be problematic and begun to be a plus. • Michael Ross