Abi Robins | Hey, Sunshine!/Conversations With Myself (Morning Bird)

cd_abi-robins.gifBeginnings like this were a rare find around these parts, ’cause the tendency was for the talent to leave the nest and head for the coasts ASAP.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abi Robins | Hey, Sunshine! EP (Morning Bird)

Obviously Abi Robins didn’t want to leave this decade and her teenage years without having something to show for it. So she took it upon herself to set up her own cottage industry to perform, record and release her own music to the world. This is the stuff of youthful dreamers, but also the ambition and trade of a self-assured talent. Judging by what Robins has to say when she pens a tune, her dreams are undercut with a touch of melancholy and world-weary sophistication.

Every note and utterance on Hey, Sunshine!, save for the piano on the excellent Russian Roulette, was performed by Robins, inclusive of guitar, bass, harmonica and anything else that seemed appropriate, apparently. The arrangements convey the intimacy of a visiting a friend on a slow Friday after work or class, winding down over a beverage on a broken-in loveseat. It’s sophisticated folk…or is it jazz balladry stripped bare? All I can say is that if she ever got a chance to work with Craig Street, it would bode well. I don’t mention Street because of his work producing Norah Jones, but instead for his work with Cassandra Wilson, the benchmark for the type of alchemy Robins has set about perfecting. If you don’t trust me, cue up Sunshine, the set closer on the EP and play anything off Michelle N’Degeocello’s Bitter. That Robins could accomplish in her youth what heralded seasoned professionals and NYC stalwarts aspire toward at the apex of their careers justifies her bravado and pursuit of her songcraft as a profession and not just a pastime. For those of us here in St. Louis where she’s based, we’re fortunate to have this Kansas expatriate call our city home.

Her guitar work is a joy when she moves beyond the strumming of melodies into more intricate playing, and in those moments her gift for melody is showcased. It also serves as a flattering setting for her voice, an earthy alto. At times it seems as if she could project to the rafters, then in the span of a quarter note she sounds near breathless, as on the slow burner "Speechless." This seeming restraint makes each performance intriguing as you wonder when she’s going to tax those lungs on a vocal the way they pipe up the harmonica Sunflower, but that apparently isn’t what Abi Robins is about. If anything is going to make an impression, it’s how she seems to focus on a pleasant, yet diversified approach to putting things together. Instead of going over the top to impress you with one element, you put it all in the mix, and it’s given time to simmer and stew-the varied flavors have come to complement each other. B+ | Willie E. Smith

RIYL: Ani DiFranco, Victoria Williams,

 

Abi Robins | Conversations With Myself (Morning Bird)

Four months after releasing Hey, Sunshine!, Abi Robins released A Conversation With Myself, her first LP, with a backing band the consisted of Bob Kaat-Wholert on bass, Wes Burrows on drums, and Sean Renner, the lone collaborator featured on Hey, Sunshine!, on synths and tambourine. In some cases, solo performers’ instrumental contributions get lost in the shuffle when they secure a backing band, but that’s not the case with Robins. On "The Blue Waltz," her acoustic guitar still drives the song while the other players contribute complementary counter rhythms and melodies. It’s very tastefully done, and feels very live, very buoyant. As the tunes drift from groove-based-"Not Lost"-into the folksier—"Drive"—Robins and Co. seem focused on staying in the pocket, while still peeking in on moody pieces. Although "Battman" is performed entirely by Robins, it exemplifies the kind of mood wherein her talents shine bright. It’s a number that’s more Manhattan than Missouri by a long shot, and in a good way. When a song makes you think of expensive drinks and dimmed lights, you can’t help but smile inside, Abi Robins puts character in her compositions, something musicians admire in other musicians.

"Two Story House" takes that sophistication and goes a step further toward the kind of jazzy sensuality that draws a stark line between slow dancing and seduction, but steers clear of sleaze. And before the memory of secondhand smoke and stiff drinks overwhelms, you the boxcar shuffle of "This Easy" keeps the restlessness of a night’s worth of wandering going, but in a cross-country trek kind of way. That momentum carries over the genre shift well enough, only to slow down and veer back to the city vibe with "A Lot to Learn." It’s a song that’s on the brink of being something really distinct but not quite synchronous, the acoustic strums and space synths playing like two conversations at the same dinner table, about the same topic, between two different people.

These quirks give the song a distinct personality, but it doesn’t impress when it precedes a song as stellar as "Someday," a simple finger-picked tune on the acoustic, that gets your head nodding as it blossoms into a cosmic siren song. This is perfect, because "Wanna Say," the final track, is a slow, shuffling waltz that makes you feel adrift on the waves, but given the acoustic instrumentation, the feel goes from being among the stars to beneath them, upon a steady tide.

To think, this is on Abi Robins’ first full-length effort, and first with a band. Her label is named Morning Bird Records, and after repeated listens, the irony of the meaning of that name, and the experience of hearing her music now, early in its lifecycle, here is this town’s chance to "get the worm," as the saying goes. Beginnings like this were a rare find around these parts, ’cause the tendency was for the talent to leave the nest and head for the coasts ASAP. This time the talent chose to nest here. It would be a shame if we neglect the worth of such a boon. Best to share our appreciation and watch it soar, knowing we were a part of its ascent. B+ | Willie E. Smith

RIYL: Aimee Mann, Alana Davis, Jonatha Brooke

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