The phrase “going pop” seems to be synonymous with negativity; that moving your artistic goals to a popular direction is always going to be a bad thing. You’re always going to be a sellout, compromising your musical quality for a few dollars more, being a lapdog of the big faceless record labels and forgetting your humble origins. This isn’t a totally unjust statement, as it sadly does happen, but to assume this statement as a generalization is extremely misguided. Y’see, sometimes you need to take a little whitewash and smooth over the cracks, polishing and refining something that has potential but isn’t quite there yet. Sometimes moving in the popular direction isn’t just a good move financially; it’s also better artistically. For Robinella, this little push, inspiration or decision, whatever it was, worked out brilliantly.
Previously Robinella and the CCstringband, (Robinella Bailey being the singer and CC being Cruz Contreras, her former husband) the group was an agreeable little folksy/bluegrass unit from Eastern Tennessee, y’know, pleasant to listen to, nice and old-timey, but nothing mind blowing. Robinella’s voice was the key, however, and they showed a lot of potential, which was eventually realized on Solace for the Lonely, their wonderful 2006 album that’s criminally unknown. I guess the world must have moved on from the Norah Jones/Allison Krauss style that Robinella sounds similar to. (but not too similar) Their loss, I’m afraid. The band has moved on leaps and bounds on Solace for the Lonely, showing much more sophistication and maturity. The album oozes with playful romance, longing desire, regrets, spirituality and pure unadulterated love. Robinella’s voice is remarkably diverse, able to sing about each of these – and more – with the greatest sincerity. The first – and probably greatest – example of this is Press On, a subdued, haunting rumination on death and the afterlife, undercut by dirge-like tom toms and subdued piano and guitar. The strongly religious imagery and the soothing passion in her voice stick with you, her cries of “press on, believer” acting almost as a mantra to take with you wherever you go. Like I said: pure unadulterated love. And yet in the very next track Down The Mountain, the pace changes again, a gentle country vamp tells the otherwise tragic tale of a lost stranger searching for answers, the very next, Whippin’ Wind, a languid, melancholic tale of a boy and a girl whose lives take very different paths. “She has always had the best of luck/But when there's rain and mud, he gets stuck/When there's rainbows she's at the end/But he gets caught in the whippin' wind.” Teardrops, the most gentle of the ballads on the disc, is tear-jerkingly beautiful.
|Find a picture of Robinella not looking seductive,|
I dare ya!
Solace for the Lonely has its cheery moments; and when they come along they’re teeming with a playfully romantic edge and a feisty sensuality. The upbeat Oh So Sexy has Robinella describing a handsome new face at the bar in her local watering hole, and the funk influenced All I’ve Given sees her grooving along to the steady beat with some playful scat singing at the end. The two closing tracks are perhaps the most upbeat and joyous; ending the album with these was perhaps a statement that despite the heartache and spiritual struggles encountered along the way, love wins overall. Melanie’s hit Brand New Key has always been slyly suggestive lyrically, but this cover positively oozes sexuality. You can almost see Robinella’s seductively raised eyebrow when she sings “I’ve got a brand new pair of rollerskates, you got a brand new key/ I think we should get together and try them out you see.” And I Fall In Love As Much As I Can is lyrically pretty self-explanatory, and sounds so old timey with its jazzy arrangement that it would fit perfectly at the beginning of a Woody Allen film. A little studio chatter at the end has someone (a band member, sound guy, who knows) chucking and saying “there’s your record.” Yup, it is. Absolutely confident that the band have nailed it, and rightly so.
Solace for the Lonely is a pop record for the ages, and a sadly forgotten one. The band certainly never forgets their roots, with country, bluegrass and jazz elements throughout. Robinella herself charms the pants off us with that Tennessee twang in her sexy sexy voice, and the cohesion of their roots with their new direction is priceless. This album came out in 2006 and didn’t splash any waves, which really is a damn shame. The band are still going so it’s not quite “alternative hall of fame” worthy, but it nevertheless remains very unfortunate that Solace For The Lonely never got any wider recognition. I don’t know if the band’s had any further success with their most recent album, (I’ll get on it soon, I swear) but they damn sure deserve it.
Words – Adam.