I don’t belive in reincarnation and the chronology is a bit off as their time on earth has some overlap, but darned if Nell Robinson doesn’t sound like a reincarnated Hazel Dickens on her new album On the Brooklyn Road, a celebration of rural life and the music that comes from it.
Named after the road leading to her family’s rural Alabama farm, the new disc includes not just songs but some spoken interludes from members of the Robinson clan, giving the proceedings a ‘field recording’ quality even though the audio is pristine, not scratchy and hissing in that Alan Lomax archival way.
Robinson herself has a clear, uncluttered voice. At 50, she’s only been performing for four years, so she’s late to the musical party, but her half-century of experience comes out through the songs like the dust on that red clay farm road goes airborne every time a truck or tractor drives over it.
Emmylou Harris, Iris Dement, Hazel Dickens, and Mike Cross are good starting points for musical comparisons, but Robinson’s relative inexperience serves to render her performances with little in the way of contriviance or affectation. Musically the tracks vary from placid, stark folk to near-Cajun romps such as the playful “Don’t Light My Fire,” and the subject matter is sometimes humorous and often drop-dead serious as on the alcoholic denial of “I’m Brilliant.”
Robinson is becoming more well known, and the guest list here reflects that increasing stature. Rob Ickes (Blue Highway) and Jim Nunally appear on a cover of Loretta Lynn’s “I’m a Honkytonk Girl,” and John Reischmann and the Jaybirds serve as a backing band on several songs.
In Robinson’s hands even well-worn tunes such as Hank Williams’ “I Saw The Light” and gospel staple “Turn Your Radio On” are enjoyable and fresh, while her gentle take on the Elvis Presley classic “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” is reverent in all the right ways. For fun, there are also two yodeling-style tunes from The Henriettas, which is her and Cary Sheldon’s tribute to the 1930’s sister act the DeZurik Sisters.
Nell Robinson, The Brooklyn Road