Alex Chilton

Songs from Robin Hood Lane

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In the course of a very eclectic career, Alex Chilton went from singing blue-eyed soul with the Box Tops to British Invasion-influenced pop with Big Star, seriously bent proto-punk in his early solo period, and good and greasy R&B covers after he relocated to New Orleans in the '80s. But one of Chilton's recurring sidelines was his fondness for crooning old standards in a warm, jazz-infused style. His take on "Nature Boy" during the Big Star Third sessions was just the tip of that iceberg, and Chilton would occasionally cite Chet Baker Sings as a favorite album and a serious influence on his vocal style. Chilton cut a fine album of solo acoustic takes on the classic songbook, 1994's Cliches, and in the '90s he recorded several sessions with bassist and producer Ron Miller for his jazz group Medium Cool. Songs from Robin Hood Lane is a collection that brings together cuts from Cliches and highlights from his sessions with Medium Cool (some previously unreleased), and this album is a warm, breezy delight. Chilton's phrasing on these performances is easygoing but from the heart, and his interaction with Miller and his sidemen shows just how much he learned from the great jazz singers of the '50s and '60s. The title Songs from Robin Hood Lane refers to the Memphis neighborhood where Chilton grew up, and many of these songs were on steady rotation on the family's hi-fi set. It's clear Chilton loves these songs, but his delivery speaks to a lot more than nostalgia -- as a gifted songwriter himself, he knew what made a great tune work, and he weaves his voice around the lyrics and melodies with the panache of a seasoned veteran and a star student. On the cuts from Cliches, Chilton's guitar work is simple but full of snap, and reveals another facet of his often-underappreciated instrumental skills. At just under 32 minutes, Songs from Robin Hood Lane is paced like a vintage vocal LP, and if it's a long way from rock & roll, this music speaks to a side of Alex Chilton's musical personality that clearly meant a great deal to him, and this is a low-key gem suitable for dancing and romancing.

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