Nell Robinson and Jim Nunally Band – Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home
The inaugural studio effort of Nell Robinson and the Jim Nunally Band’s collaboration is a twelve song album entitled Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home. This pairing is truly an all-star event in Americana/roots and bluegrass music. It brings together one of the purest modern exponents of traditional bluegrass in Nunally and his fellow band members, all highly respected bluegrass and country musicians possessing a long list of credits, with a vocal marvel in Nell Robinson. Robinson has garnered a reputation as her generation’s natural heir to Patsy Cline, but it does her tremendous disservice to imply she’s some modern clone. Instead, Robinson has a marvelously evocative voice that never sounds deliberate or slips into melodrama. She securely tethers herself to the required emotion for each part and delivers them with impressive naturalness. The chemistry these two musical powers share is palpable.
It comes through from the beginning. The title track shows the first side of the various styles Robinson and Nunally are able to effortlessly conjure. It has a delightful, buoyant air and delicate melodies that bounce from the outset. The song is lightly suggestive and its faint implications make for a better song. The majority of Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home is devoted to original material. The title cut is penned by Robinson and Nunally, but the first truly distinguished moment attributable to their songwriting comes with the track “I Hear a Southwind”. Robinson’s penchant for understated poetry shines through here and it creatively borrows from the genre’s long history for some its imagery and language, but it is the ghostly pedal steel lines that shine brightest musically. “Tempest”, inspired by the Michael Ondaate novel The Cat’s Table, has a wonderfully evocative feel without ever becoming overwrought and the patient weaving of instruments helps it glow with an incandescent beauty.
“I’m Brilliant” is another moment of exceptional original songwriting. The lyrical story of contending with an alcoholic has a slightly foreboding musical air and Robinson’s practically crystalline vocal treatment memorably contrasts with the arrangement. “Home’s Where I Long to Be” percolates nicely as a lean shuffle and musically depends on the interplay between the guitar and pedal steel guitar. They take a slight turn into blues territory on the track “Shackled and Chained” and the song’s uncluttered crawl sounds dredged from the Deep South heat of Robinson’s Alabama youth. Yet another side emerges on the song “Complicated” and it’s refreshing to hear Robinson and Nunally’s band bobbing and weaving their way through an assortment of jazzy changes. “Mirror”, the album closer, recalls few songs on the album in its musical development, but it is certainly imaginative and a deeply personal song tackling a topic not often touched on in popular song. Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home has a wealth of variety and effervescent musicality Robinson and Nunally sustain from the outset. This is one of the most substantive releases of the new year and won’t likely be much bettered.
9 out of 10 stars