Ashwood Records [Release date 08.07.16]
For a musician with a stellar CV and a solid back catalogue, it come as something of a surprise to realise that this is Robins Bibi’s first set of original songs.
‘No More A Secret’ is therefore an aptly titled album that has been worth waiting for, as Bibi shines across different but related genres, as he brings his own lyrical substance to bear on superbly played arrangements.
‘No More A Secret’ does what it says in the tin. It unveils Robin’s own inner voice, which infuses the album with a mixture of perceptive observations, and occasional confessional blues.
It’s an album that flows seamlessly and surprises by turns with different musical elements and a set of songs that house the best vocal performances of his career.
It’s difficult enough finding interesting subject matter for blues songs, let alone compiling a set of self penned songs that effectively announces your debut as a songwriter, albeit he has written songs before.
He does so with convincing narratives and tight arrangements that are glue together an ambitious vision of a broad based blues album.
There are couple of telling moments which lift the album and shifts it from the dutiful to the inspired. The funky end-piece of ‘Get In It’ suddenly sparks things as his purposeful vocal coalesces with the pumping Blackjack Horns, comprising Gary Barnacle, Nik Carter and Jack Birchwood.
Then there’s the mid-section of ‘(Drowning In) Muddy Waters’ when the vocal hook gives way to a whammy bar led solo over a staccato funky rhythm, and you realize his songs are the equal of his own musical excellence.
He’s a bluesman for our times, preaching to an audience demographic that will be drawn to the meaningful narratives and colourful metaphors, and in this case ‘(Drowning In) Muddy Waters’ a scintillating solo over some drum-tight interplay. Only a far too eager sudden fade sudden robs us of a true album highlight.
From the suitably titled opener ‘Play!’ – an immediate groove on which the bass riff pulls the listener into a motivating rhythm section and ultimately a Celtic feel on the guitar part – to the altogether heavier ‘No Label On Me’, which book-ends the album, you realise the key to ‘No More A Secret’ is Bibi’s ability to bring his signature sound to several related musical genres.
It’s also an album that makes a big statement as regards Robin’s own career. He’s an accomplished songwriter, with an ear for well crafted arrangements, as on the bouncy title track which would grace any higher profile artist.
This album also benefits from a detailed production on which the jangling guitars and distant tones cleverly evoke the lyrical meaning of ‘In Too Deep’, one of the album’s strongest songs.
He slips into confessional mode on the slow blues and Peter Green influenced ‘Packing My Possessions’, which uses the old school approach of repeating the opening line of the verse, as he lays his emotions bare to deliver some cleverly contrasting lyrics: “icicles fall from the trees, love melts to the ground.”
‘Fast Lanes Busy’ ups the tempos and comes with a cool horn arrangement and a sharper vocal attack over a throbbing bass, as it skips along with a sense of urgency. It leads to a resolving guitar break which duly arrives in full on rock mode.
The title rack is an ebullient soul track notable for Bibi’s totally convincing vocal over a thumping bass and punchy horns which might have befitted from being further up in the mix to emphasize the bounce factor, before Robin’s defining solo leads into a gentle fade on a track that hammers home the album’s nuanced message: “I don’t wear no label, except the one I call my own”.
Apart from the fact he’s routed in the blues, ‘No Label On Me’ succinctly summarises the core strand of a classy blues/rock album that balances a lifetime’s experience with musical acumen and an overall vision that seals the lid on a fine album. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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