Nell Robinson & Jim Nunally Band – Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home
Musical genres like blues, classic country, folk, and bluegrass may be long removed from the cultural mainstream and chart placement, but you can’t kill the form. It is a gross oversimplification, but as our technological realities increase, there will always be an audience, small but significant, who crave the simpler sounds of earlier times. The earliest forms of “pop” dealt in formulas like all performed music does, like any art. There are tropes, clichés, and devices long since established as distinguishing features of the art, but Nell Robinson and the Jim Nunally Band are modern practitioners talented enough to take those preconceptions, turn them slightly on their heads, and put something meaningful of themselves into these time-tested styles. The twelve songs on their release Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home manage the nifty feat of pouring old wine into new bottles.
There’s a jovial air surrounding the opening track. “Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home” isn’t representative of the album’s mood, but it is one of the more entertaining musical poses Robinson and Nunally’s band strike for the release. The steel guitar so prominent throughout the release makes a big difference on “I Hear a Southwind” because of the lyrical qualities it brings to the performance. Robinson is, more often than not, audibly inspired by its presence and sings with an extra emotive quality like she’s engaged in a duet with the instrument. One of the outstanding qualities of this release is the live sound that the band achieves – even if they didn’t cut this album together in the same room, it certainly sounds like that and that intimacy draws you in even on the darker numbers. The first of those comes with the muted melancholy of “Tempest”. They manifest some literary inclinations here and the lyric is a show stealer on an album packed with great writing. The carefully wrought arrangement and performances invoke their own form of poetry.
“I’m Brilliant” is, easily, the album’s darkest musical foray. It certainly grapples with subject matter usually too dire for popular song, the challenges of living with an active alcoholic, but it does so with sensitivity. Songwriting like this encompasses a world of emotions. There’s regret, resentment, pain, and longing laced through this song both lyrically and musically. They indulge in a little evocative sophistication with the song “Sophia”. The musical arrangement seems wispy, vaguely dream-like, and it’s Robinson’s voice tying everything together. Despite this conscious effort to expand their colors some, Robinson and Nunally never overdo things and render this in a pretentious way. Their jazzier inclinations emerge on the song “Complicated” and the second cover on the album, “Jump the Mississippi”, reinvigorates a song first popularized by George Jones and Melba Montgomery. The country roots run deep on this album, but these songs owe much more of a debt to a singer/songwriter sensibility that produces tremendous results. Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home is a powerfully composed and confident album from start to finish.
9 out of 10 stars