Robin English

Robin English

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There is a big difference in the approach taken by rock-oriented independent record labels and their counterparts in the country genre. While all indies function to some extent as farm teams for the major labels, the rock imprints often are havens for marginal performers who are hard to imagine ever going platinum, artists on the extreme. On the other hand, in country, the indies often house acts that sound little different from those on the severely restricted rosters of the Music Row majors, and in some cases are former major-label signees. A good example is Robin English, who knocked around Nashville playing clubs and taking songwriting sessions for years until she found a berth on Columbia Records in 2000. Extensive grooming and recording resulted in only one single, however, 2001's "Girl in Love," which country radio ignored despite healthy sales. After Columbia went through five downsizings by her count, resulting in a complete "regime change," such that she no longer really knew anybody at the company, and with no prospect of an album coming out any time soon, English sought her release and went back to beating the bushes. By late 2005, she signed to Aspirion, an indie run by George Collier, who himself was once an executive with various majors. Her self-titled debut album, a reworked version of her 2004 disc Hello Me that recycles half the songs, is a contemporary country/honky tonk effort that does not sound far removed from what major labels in Nashville put out. True, a major probably wouldn't let English write or co-write most of the songs, and there might be objections to "Mission of Mercy," a sanctimonious tribute to Mother Theresa, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jesus Christ, and to the feminist rewrite of "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys," called, of course, "Mamas Don't Let Your Cowboys Grow Up to Be Babies." But for the most part, English is not all that far removed, in musical style, anyway, from, say, Gretchen Wilson. Unlike that trailer-trash star, however, English is clearly more literate in these songs of romantic devotion ("I'm Yours," "Baby, You're the Man"), family history ("Cotton Field Girl," about her grandmother), folksy philosophy ("Enjoy the Ride"), and Texas patriotism ("Yellow Rose in Me"), and less belligerent. But this is still rockin' country with plenty of electric guitars and plenty of attitude. On a major, such a record would have a better shot at breaking through; on an indie, it may serve more as a calling card and songwriting demo.

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