Solace for the Lonely


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Solace for the Lonely Review

by Thom Jurek

Robinella & the CC String Band rippled the pond in 2003 with her band's self-titled Columbia debut. It offered the sound of a band of crack musicians fronted by a singer whose voice was chameleon-like in its ability to evoke country, bluegrass, pop, and jazz frameworks with sultry seductiveness, murky as smoke and yet alternately clear as water and fresh as the morning. The album showed promise, and delivered. Columbia was hoping for something akin to Alison Krauss' success. It didn't happen. This time out, Robinella Contreras shows up on the adventurous Dualtone label. She still has the CC String Band (named after her husband, Cruz Contreras), but only her name appears on the label. For those who were charmed by the last recording's flirtation with pop as it rooted itself in traditional country and bluegrass structures, this will come as a bit of a shock. For those uninitiated, Solace for the Lonely is a breath of clean sweet air. This is a pop record. Period. It's mature, sophisticated, elegant, heartbreakingly lovely, and poetic. There are songs about sex, spirituality, and love both pure and impure, and Jesus himself is called upon with confidence and joy. Country and bluegrass elements are everywhere present, but more as references than sources. What Robinella and Cruz -- who plays mandolin, Fender Rhodes, guitar, and piano -- have come up with is the recording they've been striving to make since their first album went to tape. Thanks to producer Doug Lancio (who understands balance and how to make anything sound like it was recorded in the living room), fiddles, acoustic guitars, upright bass, drums, and percussion keep the set from wandering too far afield from the roots. No matter what's happening, the feel is that this music is made from the ground up, with its roots firmly placed in Southern soil. "Press On" could have been produced by Daniel Lanois. A meditation on death and redemption, its whispering keyboards, muted tom-toms, sparse piano, and electric guitars underscore the poignancy in Robinella's lyric. The very next cut, "Down the Mountain," a modern spiritual, is a country tune defined by Cruz's mandolin, fiddle, and slowly strolling electric guitars. "Come Back My Way" is another melodic country tune. Other musics make their way here as well, as in "Little Boy" with its funky drums, wah-wah guitar, and chunky Rhodes and synth. Robinella's understated yet confident voice -- like some cross between Billie Holiday, Minnie Riperton, and Annette Peacock -- rises to the occasion and delivers effortlessly. Jazz winds its way in on "Break It Down" and "I Fall in Love as Much as I Can." Again, it's the instrumentation (Cruz's mandolin playing in particular) and arrangement that make the tunes swing (think Django Reinhardt and St├ęphane Grappelli with Holiday fronting the band). Robinella's voice is so versatile -- so utterly loose, carefree, and expressive no matter what the material is -- that she glides into every tune with an open delivery and digs into her words with an unhurried, roughhewn grace. She swings, emotes, and states with a quiet authority. Her cover of Melanie's "Brand New Key" transforms the tune from its original context as a romantic novelty into a seductive, sexy love song. Solace for the Lonely is a major step forward; it's full of adventure, fun, and mischief.

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