(Circle Sound/Thirty Tigers)
Rich Robinson's second solo album--Through A Crooked Sun--was recorded at Applehead Studios in Saugerties, New York, during April of 2011. Of course, Robinson is best known as the founding guitarist of The Black Crowes. Since the Crowes are on hiatus, Robinson seized the opportunity to record another solo album, pursue his painting and contribute music to Howard Zinn's film The People Speak.
In the official bio for Through A Crooked Sun, Robinson revealed this about his latest music: "The most exciting thing for me in doing my own album is that a lot of things that I want to express lyrically, which are very personal, may not have space to be expressed in a band format."
Robinson's first solo album, Paper, was released in 2004. Through A Crooked Sun contains more of an earthy feel than his first solo effort, which leaned heavily towards the electric side. Over the years, Robinson experienced success and the severe price one pays on the personal side for such accomplishments. Robinson explained the provenance of these songs:
"The sun was a fitting metaphor to examine my life, because in many ways what was going on both nourished me and blinded me at the same time. I was living this life that was askew. My relationships with people that were supposed to be my closest seemed damaged. Though I love my brother, the fact that my working environment can be challenging has been well chronicled. Nothing was working like it should have been, but by many people's standards, it was a dream come true...I had everything people work hard for at age 20, and now in my early 40s, in a lot of ways, I'm starting over like someone in their 20s."
The players on Through A Crooked Sun include Larry Campbell, Warren Haynes, John Medeski, Karl Berger, John Lindberg and Adam Widoff. The honest songs on this collection emit a soul that indicates in these mean days there is very little difference between a rock star and an unknown factory worker. These tunes contain a salt of the earth...
Through A Crooked Sun opens with "Gone Away". Robinson's underrated guitar playing shines on these tunes with memorable and emotive hooks. "Gone Away", a funky sort of ditty, verifies Robinson's ability to write songs that force the listener to face emotions through rhythmic melody.
"It's Not Easy" transmits a spacey sonic landscape. Yet, Robinson's guitar work provides an amazing thread that leads into his vocal where he sings: "Into the future we go with our blinders on/Shiny new gadgets that steal our focus from what's really going on." It's almost a warning for us all that life is going to get dumber and meaner if we don't follow some spiritual path.
Robinson produced this album, and he directs this group of musicians with a stellar vision. On "Lost And Found" he sings of ruthless change, reflection and the future: "The tides are turning/They're rolling in/Seeds of pasts lives/Tell me where I've been/I've seen the shelter from deep inside/And watch my spirit come out and fly."
The six-minute "I Don't Hear The Sound of You" emerges as an acoustic gem that morphs into a mystical number that conjures sounds of The Modern Jazz Quartet. Robinson revealed insight to the number "Hey Fear":
"Fear can be a healthy, natural, protective response to your environment, but it can also be debilitating. I wanted this song to be sparse to represent simplicity, and then add in the more frenetic production at the end of the song to represent the onset of fear."
The beautiful "All Along The Way" features ethereal pedal steel by Larry Campbell. This song provides a visual aspect to this music, as if the song served as the vehicle for traveling downstream on a river of sound. Robinson's images on Through A Crooked Sun remain earthbound. His tasteful guitar playing must be noted again. Robinson wrote "Follow You Forever" for his father who was struggling to maintain good health. "Things look better than they did a few months ago, and this song came from starting the grieving process", Robinson revealed.
Warren Haynes plays amazing slide guitar on "Bye Bye Baby"--one of Robinson's strongest tunes. Larry Campbell also chimes in on pedal steel on this amazing goodbye song that lingers in the memory, and depending on one's personal outlook it may serve as a soundtrack to one's life. Robinson sings:
"The prodigy of my youth is broken
Leaving what's left beneath the stars
To walk upon the days gone by
I see a world now open up outside
To wallow in the willow of the blanket time
Like two young birds fall down from the sky
So bye bye baby
I'll see you when this curtain falls down."
Measure for measure, "Falling Again" ranks as this collection's finest hour. This incandescent country song tells the tale of an untrue lover who realizes their mistake, but it's too late. As Robinson sings "It's time I was rolling/No bringing me down/The news I been hearing is all over town/Tales of a sad man/Who doesn't know he's out/Spends his time reeling/In a world of doubt." By the end of this song a new world dawns for tomorrow...
Robinson turns toward a gritty rock & roll tone for the album's last two tracks. "Station Man" contains grains of Lowell George's laid back guitar groove that counts as one of this collection's tracks that might work well with Robinson's other band. The final cut, "Fire Around", begins with quiet instrumentation that suddenly transforms into cutthroat street funk. The song almost contains a street preacher quality in Robinson's lyrics: "A chrome burning bright at night/I hear the sound/Fire Around...you got the fuel...I got the match."
Through A Crooked Sun finds Rich Robinson in the wild blue yonder playing timeless music of the highest order...