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babypix Review: Deborah Robins' solo 'Lone Journey' (5) Review: Deborah Robins' solo 'Lone Journey' 13 Apr 16

Review by Bruce Conforth

Lone Journey –Deborah Robins (Zippety Whippet Music)

Reviewed by Bruce Conforth

Deborah Robins' new CD, Lone Journey, is simultaneously one of the most lovely yet urgent recordings since the 1960s.

Now before you begin to think I'm talking about nostalgia let me make clear that this is not a revival album, or even a reimagining album. This is the real stuff: real tradition, real music, real songs, real playing and real singing.

So much of what is passed off as "folk music" today, especially when performed by women, consists of affected child-like voices backed by virtuosic accompaniment. It's usually meant to leave your jaw dropping at the instrumentation and your mind wondering at the vocals.

Thankfully Robins exists in a world far outside those surface tricks and trappings. It's obvious she's lived with these songs for decades and they are a part of the fabric of her, and ultimately, our lives. First there is the sheer volume of songs on the cd - 23! It's rare for an artist to include more than 12 or 15 today because so much time is spent in each song "showing off."

Remarkably, despite some of the pieces being as brief as 1:14 not a single one leaves you feeling cheated, but rather like you just spent an intimate moment with an old friend. Lest anyone think that Robins' playing is not virtuosic let me dispel that right now. There's playing to impress, and then there's playing. Lesser artists would have felt compelled to add musical filigrees to their pieces just because they can. Robins leaves out all that nonsense because she doesn't need it. Her playing is flawless and to the point. It is subtle yet sumptuous. In her simplicity is her fullness, far fuller than had she loaded the tunes with guitar fills and solos. She is a master/mistress of these songs because, as I mentioned, they've been a part of her life forever, and in her playing she lets us in on what good friends these songs really are.

Vocally she excels yet again. In some ways her voice is reminiscent in its honesty of the great early English singer Annie Briggs: it's rich and true and full of appropriate emotion. Nothing is faked or forced. And like with her playing, a lesser artist would have probably added saccharine harmonies to please the ear and make one forget the lyrics only to be lulled into a musical complacency.
Robins' voice is the voice of experience, and when one really knows, REALLY knows, what one is doing there is no need for extra adornments. Her craft is perfect the way it is and needs nothing more than what she brings to it.

This is as complete and perfect a performance of these songs as I have ever heard. And what songs! From songs of the 17th century (The Three Ravens) through minstrelsy and Stephen Foster to sheet music, blues, and traditional folk songs the album is a loving journey through the history of American vernacular music. There are so many standouts (aren't they all?) that it's hard to select just a few to mention so I'll just point out some of my personal favorites. The Work of the Weavers is a delight and a song that should be heard more. A labor song from the 19th century it's a poignantly simple tune of a time when workers' rights were being brought before the world as a major issue and its message is certainly timely today. Tell Old Bill is a joyful example of a blues song cycle piece that was so prevalent in the 1920s. For this Robins shifts to her 6 string banjo and her accompaniment is like riding an old comfortable horse. The Jesse Fuller blues Take It Slow and Easy is a song I hadn't played or heard for over 40 years and as soon as Robins began the entire context of where I last visited this piece immediately existed due to the truth of what she sang.

As she says in her liner notes The Water is Wide is one of those songs that everyone on the folk scene of the 60s knew and sang to death. But Robins' approach is so natural and at ease with itself that the original beauty of the song comes through again and it's like hearing it for the first time again. Rock Me To Sleep must have surely been a favorite of vaudeville tenors, but Robins transforms it into a soothing friend without any of its potentially maudlin sweetness. By the time one gets to the final piece, We're All One Family/When the Rain Comes Down it will be hard not to shed a tear of both joy for this wonderful album, and exasperation as to why so few are doing such fine work anymore. As I mentioned at the beginning, this is clearly one of the most urgent recordings of the last 40 years because it reminds us of what song is really about, and what song can be in the hands and voice of a truly fine artist.

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