Nell Robinson & Jim Nunally Band – Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home
The term “all star band” has bandied around the mainstream music scene for so long that it virtually has no bounce. However, there are occasions when it isn’t just some public relations puffery designed to shifts a few more units. Instead, it genuinely reflects a rare convergence of enormous talents. The teaming of Jim Nunally with vocalist Nell Robinson deserves top billing on its own, but surrounding themselves with longtime veterans and virtuosos of the scene like bassist Jim Kerwin and steel guitarist Pete Grant is a masterstroke elevating this project’s potential several notches. The twelve songs on their album Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home affirm all of the traditional musical values we associate with Americana/roots music while reflecting an individuality of purpose that makes this far more than just tribute. Instead, these songs and the musical arrangements powering them sound like genuine art.
The title song opens the album with a brief fanfare before launching into a breezy arrangement imbued with some colorful, yet tasteful, steel guitar lines courtesy of Grant. Nunally and Robinson’s vocals, separated by miles in conventional technical beauty and skill, nevertheless mesh beautifully. There’s much more to music than popular conceptions about what constitutes an effective singer and Jim Nunally’s voice has good phrasing and an immense amount of approachability. Robinson takes a much larger vocal role on the second song “I Hear a Southwind” and the delicacy of this tune compared to the opener is notable. The album’s title cut is a playfully ribald number, but the second song has a much more reflective side. The third cut emits much of the same reflective air defining the album’s second track and Robinson invests it with a careful, thoughtful and deeply felt vocal. The spartan musical arrangement makes a big difference in how this song comes off – it rings true like unvarnished honesty.
The interplay between the darting steel guitar and dexterous acoustic guitar creates a bouncy, lively mood from the outset of “Pardon Me”. There’s a slightly sassy edge to the music tempered by the sweetness of Robinson’s voice. You can hear a delicious, but understated, amount of Southern syrup in her vocals as well. “I’m Brilliant” alternates between banjo-propelled melancholy and a slightly jauntier chorus, but there’s a sense of hard won survival permeating the tune that sets it apart from much of other music on Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home. “Shackled and Chained” works some strong blues influences into the mix on the album and has enough grit and gravel to convince anyone the style is a good fit for their talents. The album ends with “Mirror” and the song has the elegiac air you’d expect of a song in this slot. Robinson’s sensitive, haunted vocal has a light touch that focuses on wrapping itself around the sparse instrumental backing. Nell Robinson & the Jim Nunally Band have chemistry that can’t be duplicated – this is a collection of musical artists whose sympathies fall well in line with each other and make for a whole far greater than the sum of its individual parts.
9 out of 10 stars