CD Review: Rich Robinson – Paper, Llama Blues

CD Review: Rich Robinson – Paper
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Rating: B+

CD Review: Rich Robinson – Llama Blues
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Rating: A-

Rich Robinson - Paper reissue 2016
Now that it appears the Black Crowes ' divorce is final, guitarist Rich Robinson can focus all of his attention on reviving a solo career that began in 2002, the year he started recording Paper.

Ultimately released two years later, Paper – the colorful cover art painted by Robinson himself – was an engaging, if occasionally messy, pastiche of different genres, effortlessly blending country, blues, soul, pop and psychedelia in a Southern-fried rock meal rich in diversity, skillful songwriting and tasty, tantalizing guitar licks to savor long after devouring them.

Kept in a New Jersey storage facility, along with his gear, the 2-inch master tapes for Paper were mangled by Hurricane Sandy's wrath, but there was a silver lining. With Robinson initiating a reissue campaign through Eagle Rock Entertainment for all of his solo outings – preparing the way for a new studio album due out this spring – came an opportunity to record new vocals, do some remastering and alter the sequencing for Paper. The results of those efforts, including three previously unreleased tracks from the 2004 sessions, are found on this reconfigured package due to drop Feb. 26, along with 2013's Llama Blues EP. New versions of Through a Crooked Sun and the Woodstock Sessions will see the light of day on April 15.

As for Paper, the warm sound of this expanded reissue is washed clean of impurities, allowing the full instrumentation, pristine vocals and the buffed chrome-plated sparkle of Robinson's electric guitar tone to shine through on the rollicking opener "Know Me," while giving a slightly serrated edge to the sunny, laid-back funk of "Enemy" and its strutting, tougher cousin "Stand Up." Even the Exile On Main Street murk of "Words Of The Chosen," an instrumental carried by gently rolling rhythms, has a certain clarity to it, while the crawl and stomp of "Yesterday I Saw You" and the smoldering distortion of "Places" assume pleasing and clearly defined shapes.

Falling from wistful '60s pop ("Walking By Myself") into a deep country blues hole ("Forgiven Song") as a mournful violin saws away, Paper somehow manages to avoid betraying its "south of Mason-Dixon line" heritage, that down-home twang rarely leaving Robinson's beguiling guitar work. More amorphous and less cohesive are the piano-based "Baby" and "Cause You're With Me," two drifting, worn-out tracks whose lovely parts never seem to coalesce into actual songs. The grand, Southern gothic vibe and undulating rhythms of "Answers," however, are more congruous and structured, making for a wholly realized offering that seems haunted by Townes Van Zandt.

Rich Robinson - Llama Blues
reissue 2016
Llama Blues was originally supposed to pair nicely with Through a Crooked Sun, its traditional blues feel echoing that album's "Fire Around." Limited to 1,000 CDs, Llama Blues became a cult favorite – can it really boast of being so if it's only three years old? – of Robinson's fans and it, too, is back on the market.

Robinson's distorted singing adds grit and honky-tonk attitude to an organic and thoroughly authentic – doing without any kind of slavish imitation – set of four songs that build small shrines to the ghosts of the Mississippi Delta. Wild harmonica blares through the Stones-y stutter of "By the Light of the Sunset Moon," while Robinson deftly massages subtle slide guitar into a stomping "Look Through My Window" and a slow burning, drawn-out "Broken Stick Crown." Stay for "Run Run," a brooding closer with a stripped-down aesthetic that's earthy and hard, but full of integrity.

While Paper is somewhat long and you wish it was the more charismatic Chris Robinson singing on these records rather than his somewhat subdued brother, both albums are well worth revisiting. Though not as immediately rewarding or as transcendent as the best stuff from the Crowes' catalog, their charms stick around for a while and make good company.
– Peter Lindblad

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