Steve Wilson. On music.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Bob Andrews - Invisible Love (rkr-cb productions)

Bob Andrews’ last release Shotgun was a simmering delight of vintage rock and various New Orleans idioms, Shotgun ( this earlier review gives you the lowdown on Mr. Andrews and his history with Brinsley Schwarz, Graham Parker and the Rumour, etc.) was a sleeper, a record whose virtues seemed modest at first, but that deepened and impressed with each listening. 

Just five months on, hot on Shotgun’s heels  Andrews and his partner Robin Hunn release the equally impressive Invisible Love.

Invisible Love is a little tougher, a little harder, and a little darker. The template established by Andrews and his co-writer (lyricist/producer Robin Hunn, aka RKR) is more familiar, making Invisible Love’s impact more immediate. The disc release is again accompanied by a corresponding book release. Hunn’s bizarre conceit (the lovers tale is also a lover’s tail, especially in the accompanying book the action is seen through the eyes of Labradors, Guzzard and Mr. Poo) remains intact. You may find it oddly compelling. You may not. In the final analysis it isn’t critical to appreciating her finely tuned lines, her characters passed out on the curbside, messy sheets vision of a relationship in turmoil and transition.

Bob Andrew’s genius is in taming these fevered words and making them so resolutely musical. I suggested in my review of Shotgun that there were moments when I wished his vocals were a bit more venomous, demonstrative or driven. Those moments are fewer here. Instead, I appreciate the cool anguish he brings to a heartbreaker like “Defleured Me.” There’s a wounded tenderness in his delivery of lines like “I broke my promise not to bend to all your insincerity again” that’s musically right and emotionally dead on. And to Hunn’s credit the lyric is a well-toned meditation on the costs of pleasure.

“Defleured Me” has an austere guitar part worthy of Lou Reed, complemented with devotional organ work from Andrews. Imagine Toussaint McCall and Reed collaborating; the song is deep soul beyond any idiomatic definitions or considerations. Not to belabor one song, but “Defleured Me” is one of the most emotionally honest and artfully rendered songs I’ve heard all year.

Much of Invisible Love is devoted to rockers bearing a line of descent from Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis, but as revved up by the Rolling Stones. The title track sounds like an Exile outtake – smoky, dark, propelled by John Mooney’s terrific slide guitar. "Invisible Love" is  followed by “Don't Stop” (a track so Stones-y that the boys from Richmond even have a song so named). Andrews is no Jagger, but there is an urgency to his well mannered delivery that evokes singers like Paul Kelly, another guy who may not project in an exaggerated way, but who sure gets his point across. The sneering basher “She Drives Me to Drink” could use an extra dash of bravado in the vocals, but hey – I am what you call a critic.

A solid rhythm guitarist, Andrews shines especially on the tracks where he shows off a little on the keys. “Where You Gonna Go” is a sly, swampy number, one lover eviscerating the other for lack of ambition. Andrews’ piano trail doesn’t lead so much to the Crescent City as to a vision of Pete Johnson meets Art Tatum. Stop for a moment, and bear in mind - when you listen to Invisible Love you are hearing one of the great keyboard players of the rock era, his comfort with a wide variety of styles and techniques is uncommon. Few musicians could have covered the ground a player like Nicky Hopkins did as a session player, but Andrews is on that short list.

All of the players on Invisible Love deserve recognition, Andrews and RKR assembled a terrific support crew. Drummer Jermal Watson, in particular, drives these sessions. He swings an open hi-hat on “She Drives Me to Drink,” a closed hi-hat on “Beat Up the Memories,” – giving each song what it needs, a little Earl Palmer, a little Ziggy Modeliste, a little Charlie Watts – and all about the songs.  

Andrews resembles Nick Lowe on “Pretty in My Dreams,” a mid-tempo charmer with a pensive, delicate lyric from Hunn that captures beautifully the distance between dreams and damaged self-regard – Andrews does a remarkable job of playing the other gender’s card. “Beat Up the Memories,” features Mooney’s sinewy slide solo digging into a performance that’s part “Sea Cruise,” part Billy Swan.

Smack dab in the middle of the record, at track six, “Bone” will have its champions and detractors. Hunn’s lead vocal debut is a gin soaked Lydia Lunch doing Millie Jackson affair. At three minutes it would have provided a sharp, angular diversion. Clocking in over five minutes, and as the longest track on Invisible Love, it’s a bit excessive.

There’s a Tony Joe White feel to “Mutt Not Smut,” one of the more distinctly canine themed lyrics here from Hunn. “Suck My Pipes” is a tossed off blues about violation (“sell my copper out on your street”) that reminds me a little of the bluesy gems that John Lennon tossed off early in his solo career.

“Dynamite Doll” is an unabashed pledge of devotion, and very much a romp in the manner of the great Jerry Lee Lewis. Invisible Love ends on an upbeat, hopeful note with its most Big Easy inspired performance, on “Third Line My Heart” Andrew’s playful vocal is more Nat Cole than Lee Dorsey, but Jermal Watson’s parade snare extends the second line into Hunn/Andrew’s newly posited third line.

Andrews and Hunn have fashioned a second terrific record in record time (what are these guys … Guided by Voices?). As a recent press release indicates they already have material in the works for a third and fourth release (they even have titles for them). At this feverish pace Bob Andrews will build a substantial solo catalog in quite a short time. If future recordings live up to the promise of Shotgun and Invisible Love it will be a formidable one. 

Reverberating: 8.4

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