Since placing his former band The Black Crowes on indefinite leave in 2002, Rich Robinson stepped out from the shadows of the group he formed with his brother Chris to explore a number of artistic endeavors. He spent time writing and producing for other musicians, he formed a quartet called Hookah Brown and he also composed the soundtrack to the 2002 film Highway. Now he unleashes his wonderful debut solo record on his own Keyhole Records to an unsuspecting and probably uncaring British public.
For the past three-and-a-half years, Robinson has been finding his voice by composing music and then writing lyrics to suit the melodies that express his feelings and state of mind, finally manifested in his debut composition.
For Robinson, Paper has a metaphorical definition as he says it is a “blank sheet of paper…For 15 years I wrote for Chris’ voice, but this is for me.” The cover sleeve is actually taken from an oil canvas of Robinson’s that he has been haphazardly painting for about 12 years.
Paper was recorded in New York City and sees Robinson take all the lead and backing vocals for the first time as well as playing guitar, bass, keyboards and percussion while Joe Magistro sits on the drum stool. It’s a brilliantly inventive and eclectic album soaked in rock, folk and psychedelic influences.
Beginning with the Led Zeppelin-inspired raw riff of Yesterday I Saw You, the album kicks off with a hard crunch while its follow-up, Enemy is equally likeable. It manages to pack a tough punch with its gritty approach and Robinson’s never perfect but entirely suitable vocals.
Leave It Alone is a slower number helped by a sturdy drum beat and Robinson’s infectious vocal drones, whereas Veil adopts a psychedelic effect that manages to sound very striking.
Places sounds similar to Black Sabbath‘s early work as its doom-laden riff bursts from the speakers. It sounds as though it could quite possibly come from the guitar of Sabbath’s Tony Iommi while Robinson’s voice perfectly fits the gloomy ambience and melancholy mood.
Baby is of a different kind entirely, it’s far more dulcet and sweet. Falling Away is another slow ballad, emitting warm, harmonious emotions. Perhaps the most heartfelt song on the record is the beautifully tender When You Will. It’s a wonderful song with folk-inspired textures given life by wonderfully contrived acoustic tones. The mood changes again with Oh No – an odd, quirky tune with a multitude of musical effects that manages to hit the proverbial right note with impressive aplomb.
So, Paper is a terrific 14-track opus that shows Rich Robinson’s enviable talents as a musical craftsman of considerable skill. His debut record is made with passion, feeling and an honest desire to produce something new yet retaining a nostalgic glance back to the past.