And under the category of "What the...?", we have Cydney Robinson whose Spokesman for the Shoeless album should have been titled "O Cydney, Where Art Thou?" because, like a certain movie with a similar title, it drags old-time country music kicking and screaming into the 21st Century and beyond. With pipes that could heat an old tenement in the wintry slums of New York City, Robinson sucks you into her semi-demented world with a succession of songs from the edge before whipping you into submission with two wild old-timey rockers (if such a combination can exist, it is here) which leave you reeling and if you're not sold by then…
The first three tracks could easily have been placed on the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack. Jebadiah fades from one-dimension to full-bodied sound, telling the story of a girl handed to a zealot by her mother "for teaching" and ending you know where. Aided by Robinson's wavering and sometimes cracking voice, the story unfolds as a horrible fact of life, but damn, it's good music. Not too far from the scene in that movie wherein the guys run into the three maidens washing, Hold Me Now has a rhythmic but ethereal feel. Simple sticks beat the cadence of a death march to the gallows while the victim pleads forgiveness from a Higher Power. Haunting in structure, it is made whole by the odd vocal harmonies beneath Robinson's clear, beseeching voice. Old-timey drives Amos Henry toward destruction, a story of greed ending in suicide. Depressing, but classic.
Then, like Dolly Parton on steroids, Georgia takes you from the depths with some kickass rock of odd dimensions. The overamped guitar and banjo of Sleven Rucci-Airo propels band and Robinson to greater heights until it goes over the edge and ends in a stumble. Set up by the aforementioned three, it is a musical sledgehammer to the forehead. Of course, they don't stop there. Butterflies & Diamonds takes it a step further, the rocking beat taking everyone headlong toward oblivion, Robinson squeezing notes and phrases from God knows where. On both tracks, it sounds as if Tony Hoffer, who produced, put the band in a basement and said let 'er rip because that is exactly what they do. Incredible stuff.
If you're not convinced about the power of Robinson's voice and delivery by now, Texas convinces you. Simple guitar is all you need when you have lungs like that and all I can say is after hearing this little ode, Texas is okay with me. If Robinson wanted to go country, My Wedding would do it, but she is just not a cookie cutter musician. No squeaky clean view here. Black dress, a Vegas wedding and consummation on a mattress in the middle of a floor. Nashville might cringe, but let them. She even ends the song with a bit of a Melanie Safka la-da for good measure.
The slightly demented Pelican Bay is as close to folk as Robinson gets, a beautiful song pushed by odd chords and bleak subject matter. The strange siren chorus toward the end will have you scratching your head. Then on to—pop? Son of a gun. Caroline has the makings of an Americana hit if Americana has such a thing. It's all here—hook, melody and an all-too-short sha-la chorus toward the beginning which lives only that one time. Follow Me Down, with its out of tune piano peculiar to those in Hollywood's depictions of the saloons of the Old West, caps off the album perfectly. Simple ballad with psychotic undertones, it gives Robinson one more chance to prove her voice.
Truth be told, with Spokesman, Cydney Robinson has given us a chance to redeem ourselves as listeners. Blessed with more than just a voice, she pushes the envelope at every turn and has come up with some of the more unique and creative music available. Add the excellent musicianship (especially of Rucci-Airo) and odd but ideal production of Tony Hoffer and you have a must-have. True, this may not catch everyone's ear, but the possibility alone makes this worth the search because if it does, it will be gold in your vaults.
(Frank Gutch Jr. writes and has written for numerous magazines and websites, presently including this blog, his own website and the prestigious Don't Believe A Word I Say site put together by musician and music pundit Bob Segarini, out of Toronto. He specializes in the Indies, having fought hand-to-hand combat with major record labels for decades (talk about zombies). He believes music should be the core of the music business, though business it mostly be, and denies the accepted reality in the stead of the artistic one. Seldom does he receive pay for articles and/or reviews and believes that there is no place for negatives in a world in which one cannot keep up with the positives. He is, in a sense, a lost soul in a sea of music, drowning, but drowning gratefully.)