Friday, April 14, 2017

Nell Robinson and Jim Nunally Band - Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home

Nell Robinson and Jim Nunally Band - Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home  

The mix of original songs with a duo of covers comprising the first full length studio album from Nell Robinson and the Jim Nunally Band find these two Bay Area based musicians assembling a collection from the four EP’s they have sold from the merch table at their live performances. It speaks well of them that the bulk of Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home is devoted to original compositions. Too many artists working in this area are content reworking traditional covers and maintaining a strong, albeit cold, fidelity to the genre’s musical tropes. Robinson, Nunally, and their all-star band go far beyond the purview of mere entertainment and recreation. Instead, they reach for something individualistic and take it firmly in their grasp. Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home features an impressive cross-section of songs exploring a variety of styles with sure-footed grace. 

The grace is evident from the first. The title song “Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home” has a beaming demeanor and beautifully arranged interplay between the various instruments, but the quality really carrying it off above all others is the way Robinson and Nunally’s vocals sync up as a charismatic whole. The lyrics for the album’s third song, “Tempest”, are inspired by the Michael Ondaatje novel The Cat’s Table, but Robinson’s words never succumb to pretentiousness. Robinson, instead, takes great care to deliver the lyrics in an atmospheric, but utterly accessible way. Nunally draws upon some solidly country influences for his track “Hillbilly Boy” and it has more of the same relaxed grace defining the album that we’ve heard up to now. Things take a distinctly different turn with “I’m Brilliant”. This is a brooding piece, both musically and lyrically, but it does a substantive artistic job of exploring a difficult theme and making it resonate even with those who haven’t endured such an experience. Robinson takes great obvious care to get these words right and the performance ranks among her best on Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home. 

Pete Grant’s pedal steel adds a generous and effective amount of color to the song “Home’s Where I Long to Be” that helps bring this well-executed shuffle up several levels. The vocals demonstrate the same amiable personality that has made fans out of so many audiences they’ve appeared in front of and come at a nice place in the album’s track listing. “Sophia” is much more of a folk song than anything in the classic country or bluegrass tradition, but it pushes the envelope. The song never quite comes together in a recognizable shape and, instead, gathers its effects through accumulation rather than convention. “Complicated” is one of the more surprising outings on Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home thanks to the effortless jazz style they affect for the tune – it isn’t a purist approach, certainly, but it gives the song’s a distinctly different feel than the others surrounding it. This album is full of pleasant surprises – Robinson and Nunally have teamed with the right people to make an album fully representative of what they want to do. 

8 out of 10 stars 

Shannon Cowden

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