Graham Robins – Majestic Halls
33 Jazz Records – 9 March 2018
His last release, Parish Papers & Short Stories, was one of my Top 10 albums of 2015. Three far too long years later, the latest, his fifth (although there’s apparently also a hard to find limited edition private release) has already earned its slot in the 2018 list.
Self-produced and recorded in Luton, but sounding like it was given birth in Memphis, it oozes warm, honeyed southern soul and a gospel vibe that will inevitably again draw comparisons to the Celtic soul of Van Morrison in his prime, but there are other more country and bluesier colours to its palette, Robins wielding his brush with the mastery of a Van Gogh as he paints his musical canvas.
It opens with Robins blowing harp on the sublime redemption-themed country soul Hall of Faith, Stuart Lynas laying down the Hammond groove, Chris Newman on electric guitar and Sallyanne Scarbrow providing the soulful backing vocals on a song that could go twelve rounds in the ring with Into The Mystic and still be on its feet at the end.
Having initially soothed with a burnished, mellow caress, the album jolts you awake and pulls you into the middle of the dance floor with Three Foot Spoon, a finger-clicking, sax barping rhythm and blues swing that conjures some jammed delta juke-joint, but, perhaps down to the image of some greasy spoon cafe and a cup of rosie-lee, also put me in mind of George Melly playing a smoky London jazz cellar back in the day.
It’s back to Celtic soul and harmonica for the passionately sung The Learning Game as he sings about Arcadia, mission bells, heavenly choirs and how “we all need something to believe.” There’s a more direct Irish connection as, Lynas’s keyboards emulating accordion, he eases into memories of love shared for Nights In Coleraine, a country waltzing song that has the feel of Detroit City era Tom Jones.
Marking the mid-point, Family Ain’t Always Blood is a fabulous six and half minute Memphis soul soaked and harmonica streaked celebration of friendship and the company you choose, Lynas on keys and Paul Devonshire blowing early hours sax, Robins drawing on the same roots that sustained both Otis Redding and Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham for a song you could imagine jamming out in a live setting.
Another influence is name-checked as he slips into a relaxed and almost percussively sensual delta groove for Indianola Mississippi, serving a lyrical reminder that this was the town where BB King was born, Newman grooving on laid-back blues licks and Robins also slipping in a nod to Ronnie Hawkins and Let The Good Times Roll. However, reflecting the title, it’s pure soulful Texas border country for the doomed but glorious romance of One More Margarita (naturally rhyming with senorita and sweeter) with Paul Hornsby’s puttering drums and Hill on violin.
Opening with and smoothed throughout by aching sax, the final leg gets underway in epic form with the slow march, gospel-influenced nine-minute The Great Awakening, another number with the feel of an extemporised r&b jam as, touching on themes of love, epiphanies, redemption and rebirth, he sings about hearts and souls becoming one, summer fading as snowflakes fall, and the footprints we leave behind.
With its references to Otis, Rufus Thomas and Marvin Gaye, riding an organ and sax framework, Pure Soul is a sort of easy rolling homage reimagining of Sweet Soul Music, the album closing with the slow soul swaying, piano and churchy organ-based title track, a hymn to the messengers, saints and angels who create the music and sweet mercy that fills his heart and to which he gives such magnificent voice. Mansions of glory indeed.