CD REVIEW: Robin Kelly - Black Ice
By Levi Canfield
- INDIE MUSIC DIGEST:-
Artist: Robin Kelly
Weakness: Bloating simple songs too far, Corny chorus’s
Robin Kelly is a singer/songwriter from Auckland, New Zealand. Touching on such cornerstones as John Lennon and Harry Chapin, Mr. Kelly croons with strongly developed lyrics. Mixing those lyrics with strong folk, soft-rock, and pop, Robin creates his debut album “Black Ice”. While this may be his debut album, he has produced 3 other since that time, all that managed to touch the heart just as passionately. Clocking in at just a little over 40 minutes, almost all of Black Ice’s tracks are going to give you something to think about after the story is told.
Black Ice starts off with the self titled song, and the largest pop nugget to be heard. The strong influence of the psychedelic guitar styling’s really help to keep the song ambling along. The simplest lyrics of the album can be found on that track, but with it’s meandering guitar riff, you’ll soon find your head bobbing before the 2nd track even begins. Another delightful track, and one of the strongest on the album, “Crying Shame” fuses the same strong pop sensibility with Robin Kelly's unique storytelling. The atmosphere used by the mix of violin, harmonica, and acoustic guitar really put the listeners into the true desperation of being used. Robin Kelly’s beautiful vocals recall a past John Lennon, or the genius balladeering of Harry Chapin. The song, “Empty Sack of Dreams”, definitely brings up the latter. A harrowing song with beautiful tragedy, Kelly has a simple, but undeniably effective way of making the listener feel like the song is singing only to them. Taking simple themes of sadness and sorrow, can be turned into any listeners personal soundtrack for their own depressing event. Immediately following “Empty Sack..” Robin Kelly follows up with “A Shot Rang Through Me” that tells the story of an office worker getting gunned down in a dark alley. Strong metaphors, and powerful imagery really helps cement this impending feeling of masked acceptance. The scared feeling of dying alone, and the warm relaxation of nothing there is nothing you can do about it now. Before the album ends Robin has a strong finish with another quirky jangle pop song(“ The Road I’m Traveling On”) and heartfelt ballad (“I Still Would, You Know”). Robin Kelly has a subtle but rarely duplicated ability to craft a simple song that can keep your ears attentive, while making your head think even after the song is over.
Unfortunately with most stellar debuts, Black Ice has its cracks as well. The biggest problem is during tracks 3&8, when his creative storytelling gets too indulgent in random stories. Track 8 (“They Gave You His Name”) has a fairly hefty background story that the CD case explains, but the song doesn’t. Even though it may be an interesting concept for a song it still has to be understandable without needing a background. The same problem occurs on “Sarsen Stone” which is about the builders of stone hedge. With such an obscure topic to relate to, it makes for quite a leap of faith to take seriously. “Sweet Youth” is dedicated to his daughters, but they will probably be the only one to listen to this song. Id expect most people to be hitting the skip button when this track comes on. The song itself might not be bad by any expectations, but it definitely is a sleeper, and one of the weaker songs on the album.
Despite the few skippers (if the songs can be called that), this album has truly a beautiful acoustic folk presence. Robin Kelly takes cues from some of the most well respected and well known singer/songwriters including John Lennon, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young. Amazingly all of those influences can be seen, and I doubt they would be offended to have their name attached to this. Robin Kelly has proven since creating this album that his strong talent for songwriting has been better honed and put to use since then, but for his first release, Black Ice definitely had the chops to prove Robin Kelly would be sticking around for awhile to come.
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