Once in a while you come across an artist who embodies the rare combination of a distinctive voice with a familiar sound. Robin Elliott is one such artist. Like an old friend, I found myself singing along to his music, even imagining some additional harmonies. Simple and effective arrangements contain the seeds of the potential to bring out further aspects of the songs. When I realised that Robin Elliott began his career as a professional songwriter for film and television, this made sense. His next project, a full length album, Parallel Lives, due for release soon will explore this potential, with different singers and styles for each song featured. It’s a good time to look back to this EP, released in September 2015.
He’s supported by Malin Dahlgren and Viktor Naslund on backing vocals. They bring their Swedish brand of experimental acoustic pop to the arrangements. Eric Ford on drums adds a jazz influence and Mao Yamada on bass brings a New Orleans style from his other projects. Tobi Lustigman has produced the whole for Folkroom Records.
When asked to describe the theme of the EP Robin Elliott came up with the following description, ‘Folk-pop meets financial crises whilst aged alcoholic perverts stumble across the enactment of terrible events enshrouded in suburban woodland’.
Don’t let that put you off. There’s real charm and humour in his writing. Perhaps this description says more about the kind of commissions he’s given by film companies. There’s definitely a hint of Nordic Noir in it.
The lyrics of his songs do explore the darker side too. Lean Times is an upbeat exploration of the inevitably of the 2008 crash and its continuing repercussions, with a hint of Randy Newman.
Start Me Up is optimistically catchy in spite of the sentiment. Par Avion shows off his lovely vocal style in a fine arrangement. He has a smooth and soothing tone, with enough of a rasp to make it surprising. There’s an occasional Celtic lilt to his accent. He comes from Liverpool, so maybe that makes sense.
Gentle Chunks must be close to the top of the list of unsuitable subjects for songs, but it works. Vomiting after a big night out, ‘splatter gently’, it finds the poetry in puking and post party blues. Shapeshifter has an other worldly quality that’s reminiscent of Nick Drake. The EP’s title track, Green Ginger Wine, is twice the length of the other tracks at nearly seven minutes. Inspired by the orbital landscape of the A406, it conjures up darker and more complex sound pictures, lyrics looping back on themselves through the harmonies of its refrain. Green ginger wine can be both medicinal and sickly. ‘I like to wallow in my misery’.
This is a gentle look at a harsh world. There’s a tension in that contradiction which makes his music particularly interesting. Robin Elliott is working in a folk tradition because his music is rooted in a narrative tradition, his lyrics have something to say.
It’s a pleasure to listen.
Review by: Nicky Crewe
Green Ginger Wine is Out Now and Available via Bandcamp: robinelliottmusic.bandcamp.com/releases