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Robyn Hitchcock’s iconic career has followed many twists and turns, but on his upcoming release, he is revisiting the quirky psych pop he is known for. Tongue is firmly in cheek with these songs, but there are serious moments too. The sound here hearkens back to The Soft Boys as well as his early solo records. Recorded in Nashville with producer Brendan Benson, he is backed by a band of fellow Music City pickers and players that includes guitarist Annie McCue, bassist Jon Estes, and drummer Jon Radford. Harmony vocals are contributed by Emma Swift, Grant Lee Phillips, Gillian Welch, and Wilco’s Pat Sansone.
Take the excellent “Mad Shelley’s Letterbox” with its sing along chorus and Robyn’s deft hand with a guitar. It could have been lifted off Underwater Moonlight, though the lyrics are less lysergic and fevered than that brilliant release. “I Want To Tell You About What I Want” finds Robyn in fine voice, as his voice skitters over several registers and is entrenched firmly in a strong melody that is understated but catchy. “Virginia Woolf” is mesmerizing and lovely, sounding slightly familiar even as it offers up something new. “I Pray When I’m Drunk” sounds like one of those one-off Beatles or Stones songs with a country edge, a style Robyn doesn’t often explore. “Sayonara Judge” is a beautiful slow ballad drenched with emotion and meshed with a dreamy backdrop. The song laments about the down side of aging, sounding both sad and sentimental.
“Detective Mindhorn” is an upbeat pop tune inhabited by one of Robyn’s eccentric characters, with no bugs or fish in sight. “1970 in Aspic” has really swell harmony vocals and is country-tinged, by virtue of the steel guitar that dominates here. Once again, Robyn seems to be wistful about the past, something I can relate to! So much has changed since those days, in both good and bad ways. “Raymond and the Wires” is about Robyn’s father (Raymond Hitchcock, the author), and it’s a gorgeous example of baroque pop, complete with cello. It’s one of my favorite songs here, and I would love to see Robyn make an entire album like this. “Autumn Sunglasses” is pastoral psych folk that seems like it was lifted from the late 60s. Robyn excels at this style, and I adore this ornate, lovely piece. The ending tune is “Time Coast”, which swirls with paisley psych and pretty harmonies. Again, a very welcome genre from an artist I have admired for over thirty years now. I have also seen Robyn more than any other musician, and there is a reason! If you haven’t had the pleasure of one of his performances, do yourself a favor and get out to see him. In the meantime, we have this superb new album to savor, and it’s one that will please old fans and those new to Robyn’s body of work. Highly recommended!
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