Rich Robinson's Ceaseless Sight
The End Records
By James Calemine
"We'll ride ahead
And never to go backwards on our road again."
"Down The Road"
Change is always afoot. We all must weather unforeseen events--for good or ill. Some of these brutal changes prove unsettling, yet essential. Most of us seek answers to such universal riddles in art for inspiration or answers during eerie times.
Atlanta, Georgia, native Rich Robinson, The Black Crowes' founding guitarist, recently released his third solo record The Ceaseless Sight. It's Robinson's strongest solo release to date, and for those of you enduring strange changes--The Ceaseless Sight proves as an essential collection to hear.
Recorded in Woodstock, NY, like his previous release Through A Crooked Sun, The Ceaseless Sight contains 12 songs. Robinson is very familiar with studios in Woodstock. The Black Crowes recorded Warpaint in Woodstock, and Before The Frost at Levon Helm's studio.
It's a new era. Times change. Recently Robinson provided insight to Classic Rock concerning the fulcrum for The Ceaseless Sight:
"When I started, I had all these songs and I was putting together bands and just going down the same path as before. It just fell in my lap that either I have to do this on my own or not do it, you know what I mean? So I started just writing lyrics and started singing, and over time I got much more comfortable with this. My first record, ‘Paper,’ I really loved, but there was a difficulty to it that was new, and it was a huge learning experience for me. Then the Crowes got back together and I went on tour for a long time and started singing more. That whole tour for ‘Paper,’ I was out there singing and learning about my voice.
So when I was back out with the Crowes, I was singing more and by the time I made ‘Through a Crooked Sun,’ I felt much more comfortable and had much more of an understanding of how to write for my voice. Doing that tour in 2011 and 2012, again it taught me a tremendous amount. By the time I went in the studio to make this record, I had all of that history to bring with me. Everything is a learning process. Everything that I’ve been doing for 25 years has been that way, so it’s always cool to go through all of these experiences that kind of build my way of seeing things or hearing things or creating things."
Robinson elucidated on the real motivation of these songs to icon vs. icon: " As I was writing lyrics for the song 'Down the Road', I wanted to reflect my life moving forward. Never looking back. I wrote 'ceaseless sight on the horizon.' I thought that would be a good representation of where my beliefs are and what the record represents."
Robinson's musical style always remained steeped in old American musical traditions, which always served as the template for his own originality. Robinson's EP Llama Blues demonstrates his command over electric Chicago-Delta blues. The Ceaseless Sight retains a musical balance between classic high and lonesome-laced twangs and golden acoustic soul.
Within every groove, Robinson's incandescent guitar playing shines. He is a guitar player of the highest order. The Ceaseless Sight opens with a rollicking song, "I Know You", a number that proves Robinson always operated as the musical engine of The Black Crowes. His playing never sounded better. It's a gritty tune containing cut-to-the-bone dark truths regarding moving onward:
"Dare I say I wish you well
But never reacquaint myself
To the task involved in this
Broken down relationship."
Straight truth. "Down The Road", stands as one of this collection's strongest songs. The track is a fine example of Robinson's subtle, but emotive musicianship. The lyrics send a faithful message that you must move through crossroads and emotional murk--where matters of the soul are at stake--to achieve peace:
"Going down the road
Straight lines broken and blurred
It's not night or day
It's not the promised land
Rolling along is my task at hand."
"One Hill Road" contains lush acoustic instrumentation. Robinson's band create a cohesive streamlined sound. "The Giving Key" counts as rollicking blue-eyed soul, and ranks as maybe the only composition one could possibly hear Robinson's brother singing. On this track, Levon Helm's daughter--Amy--contributes graceful backing vocals.
A lowdown blues number, "This Unfortunate Show" strangleholds the subject of leaving a toxic relationship as the lyrics slice to the quick:
"You know you tried to take my soul
And threw it out the window
Why don't we walk ten paces
And put an end to our tribulation
Back and forth we tug and pull
The rope either way
You push me I push back
There's no reason to stay
Watching this powder keg
Yes, it's ready to blow
Time to back away from this unfortunate show."
Set fire to the past. Onward...
A pastoral soundscape exists on "In Comes The Night" where he sings, "It's all a mystery/When you find you're still on the road" where deft six-string gems are heard with every rotation. "Inside" contains a classic Robinson progression and a message of courageous self-reliance. But, he knows a secret about making people dance...
"I Have A Feeling" conjures Robinson's reverence for the street funk of Sly & The Family Stone and Funkadelic. "We need to seek and question everything--everyone," he sings with optimism in the face of ever-present darkness as this hypnotic riff lingers in the memory.
The slow-burning "I Remember" contains the resonating lines: "I remember/When you dropped your soul/Left it on the ground behind you/Never to go home". The music evokes emotion as this composition represents another tune reflecting on the past and things that cannot be changed. It's driving music...open road awakenings..."passed land, lakes and vista scapes..."
The earthy "In You" serves as a redemptive love song. Positive change. Robinson balances his musical instrumentation on The Ceaseless Sight with precision. Offering more light in the lines: "In you/I can see the sun is shining bright/Rays of light shine down to the ground/In you I can see no more lonely/At last I am truly found."
A relentless mostly-acoustic gem, "Trial and Faith" stares change in the face without flinching. Lyrics such as "Trial and faith knock on my door/ Like sibling young orphans approach their new home" and "Never close your window to trial and faith" verify one must forge on into the unknown without looking back. The sentiment reminds me of the Bob Dylan line: "Either brace yourself for elimination/Or your heart must have the courage for the changing of the guard."
These are strange, savage times--wars, natural catastrophes, disease, poverty, economic uncertainty and skewed societal perceptions all trickle down to a personal level. It's a thin red line. Hard choices must be made in unchartered territory. It is a time where no one is immune to darkness close at hand.
In our last interview, I asked Robinson about his perspective on light and dark. I thought it might be interesting to hear his response since he's sold over 25 million albums, he's a family man and yet must go out and be a solo artist and work in these eerie times; he's seen the face of decadence and desperation. The music and literary industry have changed a lot in the last 20 years. The Black Crowes are on an indefinite hiatus, and for Robinson he must forge towards the future like the rest of us.
"I think there's angels and devils in us. A common theme that runs through most religions is that we can attain heaven in ourselves or attain hell in ourselves. What reality is based on is soul or morals and what you choose to give the world and to take back. I believe making a deal with The Devil is selling out. The proverbial--in my case--I could make a lot of money if I make this shit music or huge awful songs that appeal to common denominators of people's ignorance.
Or I could do something a little loftier with the creative process and show things a different way to make mankind better, but it might not sell at all. I think we get caught up in the literal instead of the metaphorical. We do it with the Bible sometimes, and we do it with religious documents. I truly believe these metaphorical sort of teachings have permeated history. We're all exposed to universal things. You get into trouble when you confuse the metaphorical with 'it happened just like this'. That's what I think."
If nothing else, The Ceaseless Sight is honest, high-grade and timeless music. The final cut, "Obscure The Day", travels from astral to organic that only emphasizes Robinson's variegated musical scope. His spectrum of sound, tone and poetic movements provide a clear glimpse into Rich Robinson's vision beyond the horizon. These songs represent a fine soundtrack to those wading through shifting sands into the wild blue yonder where one must embrace change...