Friday, April 14, 2017

Nell Robinson and Jim Nunally Band - Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home

Nell Robinson and Jim Nunally Band - Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home 

Nell Robinson and The Jim Nunally Band have followed up a number of high profile live performances with their first full length studio album Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home. It is a twelve song collection full of a wide array of musical poses Robinson, Nunally, and their top flight collaborators flawlessly pull off. These Bay Area residents share the spotlight with an assortment of top notch San Francisco talent with long pedigrees like bassist Jim Kerwin, pedal steel master Pete Grant, and percussionist Jon Arkin who’ve played with iconic artists like The Grateful Dead, David Grisman, and Lee Konitz. The performances on this release are sympathetic, lack even a hint of self-indulgence, and roll past the listener with a calm self assurance that draws listeners in from the first.  The dozen songs on this release make the case that this creative partnership might be the best going in this style today. 

It crackles and sparkles with life throughout all twelve songs. The title track eases listeners into their musical world with its alternating between guitar and pedal steel courtesy of respected guitarist Pete Grant. This is, obviously, a band that has a natural interplay that never needs to be forced. This fact leaps out at listeners with even greater clarity on the album’s second track “I Hear a Southwind”. It’s one of Robinson’s best lyrics on the album, a fine poetic invocation of self-reflection that she renders with some of the finest vocal phrasing on this release. “Tempest” is one of the album’s weightier numbers, but musically and lyrically, but Robinson and the band more than answer the challenge with a lightly atmospheric and less-simple-than-it-sounds backing. It takes many years for most musicians to develop the skills of rapport that are demanded to pull this sort of music off and “Tempest” stands as one of the album’s finest examples of the rapport existing between the players and vocalist alike. 

Some interesting percussion opens “Pardon Me” before the song begins in earnest. This is classic country with an effervescent sleekness that never sounds hollow or unduly calculated. Acoustic guitar dominates many of the instrumental breaks while the pedal steel provides valuable counterpoint for the verses and chorus. After “Pardon Me”, the deluge. “I’m Brilliant” is far and away the unhappiest moment on the album and has an unified mood quite unlike any other song on the album. This depiction of someone struggling to cope with an alcoholic in their lives doesn’t concede much in the way of hope, but its humanity is unquestionable. “Shackled and Chained” has some a little bit of slide guitar and a leaden pace that places it firmly in a blues mode. Nunally and Robinson share lead vocals on this song and their voices are, respectively, laden with enough dirt and hard-won wisdom that it all comes off quite credibly. These songs will please longtime fans to have them all on one release and newcomers will be astounded by its across the board strength.  

9 out of 10 stars 

William Elgin

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