The finesse and soul of Terry Robb’s “How a Free Man Feels” is apparent from the first. He doesn’t make any hamfisted efforts to ground his latest single, taken from the new album Confessin’ My Dues, in melodramatic production trickery but, instead, opts for a polished and professional tone that never sacrifices authenticity. It’s a solo performance featuring nothing more than Robb’s voice, lyrics, and his distinctive fingerpicking guitar style – but it doesn’t need any more than that. Robb, with these spartan elements, accomplishes more than many full bands working a similar style even approach. It’s the latest pinnacle in a four decade long musical career that has seen Robb perform and tour with some of the biggest marquee names in the music world and illustrates how passion and talent can deepen rather than fade with the passage of time.
His voice isn’t the gravel-laden blues yowl of Delta originators or their electrified Chicago offspring, but it is more than well equipped to demand your attention. He has a low-key soulfulness to his singing that helps listeners suspend disbelief and brings them into his world with ease. I like his phrasing a great deal – he makes the climatic line of the traditional three line blues verses mean a great deal without overemphasizing their primacy in the composition and the feeling he puts into his vocal makes the track all the more satisfying for listeners. The writing never overreaches. The song is written from a first person perspective, as most great blues songs are, and Robb creates a convincing voice for the listener without relying on a host of well worn tropes to win the audience’s confidence.
There is no wasted motion – Robb never uses two or three words when one will do and the same focus defining the song’s music extends to this area of composition as well. Robb’s acoustic guitar playing is the critical piece of the puzzle and drives the song forward. He sets a mid-tempo pace with his fretwork and finger picking that fixes its attention on musicality rather than drawing from a bag of tricks in lieu of genuine substance. He shifts from one passage to the next with the surefooted skill of a long serving musician and, yet, the song has the spontaneity of a first take. It sounds like Robb walked into a recording studio with his guitar, sat down, told the producer to start recording, and cut this song in a single take.
The video reinforces that impression. It consists of nothing more than Robb positioned in front of an old fashioned looking microphone and the assorted close ups of his face tossed in for good measure underlines how much he gives of himself to the performance. There are no arresting visuals thrown in to spice up the clip – it has the same focus he brings to the song and makes the listening experience even more rewarding. Terry Robb has scored again with this single and it promises that his latest album release Confessin’ My Dues will find its place among the finest recordings of his musical career.