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Trish Robb – Broken Hearts and Dragonflies

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Band: Trish robb
Album: Self Titled
Genre: Singer-songwriter/folk
Influences: Emmy Lou Harris, Ron Sexsmith, Joel Plaskett
Rating: 4/5
By: Lee Mellor





Broken Hearts and Dragonflies:

Trish Robb has a knack for capturing the essence of a Canadian summer: rickety cottages, droning bugs and romances rising and falling like the sun over the water. Released on September 10, 2010, her Self-Titled debut album also pays tribute to the Toronto songwriter’s American roots without resorting to patriotic cliches or shameless name dropping (aren’t I cool for having lived in NEW YORK? I partied like a rock star in LOS ANGELES, crap-cetera, crap-cetera). Robb’s music stands in earnest contrast to an increasingly gimic-driven folk scene more Emmy Lou Harris than Feist. This is art designed to last. Oh do not ask what is it? Let us go, and make our visit…

Dipping and delving into a variety of stories and moods, one underlying theme continually insists itself throughout Robb’s first record: transition, both in the physical and emotional sense. This motif is established in the opening track Back Against the Sun with the chaunteuse soulfully bemoaning I’m running with my back against the sun/all my life I’ve come/ to the point when I realize I’m wrong. This up-beat kick off is actually the weakest track on the album, which considering the overall quality, is really not a bad thing. The vocal arrangements and dobro are superb, but for a song that relies so heavily on a driving country beat, the rhythm meanders, and the melody never really gets its hooks in. Following on its heels, the sparser, blues-tinged ballad That Rose is where Robb seems more comfortable. With tastefully finger-picked acoustic guitar, magic pentatonic piano and haunting reverb drenched vocals, we are given our first glimpse into the heart of a hopeless romantic a room, beautiful in its honesty, which we are fortunate to revisit several times over the course of this album.

First however, Robb must lead us down darker paths, the places where romantic idealism inevitably clashes with infidelity, and can turn away, or worse, to murder.

Mother Stay, the third track on the album, is an example of the former viewed through the eyes of a child witnessing a tragic cycle of abuse and betrayal in their parents’ relationship. With snare drum, shakers and guitar chugging confidently behind Robb’s catchy vocal interplay, Mother Stay may not be the first song on the album to stick with us emotionally, but it’s the first you’ll find yourself humming as you cook dinner. Its shadowy overtones set us up nicely for the strongest tune on the first half of the album: Big Black Tree, a classic minor key murder ballad with an eerie descending bass progression. From the moment that Robb’s vocals appear, the listener is immediately ensnared. With lyrics reminiscent of Neil Young’s Down By the River and Nick Cave’s Henry Lee, Robb weaves a simple but highly visual story of a woman scorned: I filled a big ol’ bottle of bubbling rage/I wasn’t thinking clearly, I’ll be the first to say… I shot my baby down/Just for messing around. It’s a story we’ve heard countless times, but never quite like this. Aside from being Robb’s strongest melody and vocal performance thus far, it also demonstrates her versatility as a songwriter.

In the wake of Big Black Tree, the calming repetition of the ballad Familiar falls a little flat. What we are really looking for is its successor Boston: a tastefully arranged waltz punctuated by horns. Widely considered to be Robb’s greatest song, this tale of lost love and desperate indecision could easily stand alone with a simple voice and acoustic guitar. Fortunately, the daring approach to

the production actually serves it well.

The ghost of Jeff Buckley smileswith a similar warmth upon the duet Over Seattle, with its lone effects-driven electric guitar and harmonica. Jeff Leech, a talented and innovative performer who once frequented open mics with Robb during her Oshawa stint, does a great job sharing the lead vocal. It’s a solid song, though not necessarily infectious, and satisfies our need for a third peep (along with That Rose and Boston) into that special place in Trish Robb’s soul.

Sore From Feeling Bad, keeps the second half of the album on the right track and provides a stellar, if somewhat lengthy, transition towards the final two ballads. Sharing its name with one of Bruce Springsteen’s masterpieces, The River is to my mind the most breathtaking recording on the album, actually giving The Boss a run for his money. A single tantric chord calls us like a will o’ wisp into this mysterious composition, accentuated by the soft resonance of cymbals. Robb’s vocal seeps in You looked at me, right around the bend – the fields where stalks grow wild, and is soon echoed by the sounds of forlorn female voices. Whether we realize it or not, we are slowly being drawn in. Tension is building, and it’s damn good. At 1:36 a string section appears, and Robb begins the mantra Why you crossing the high water? Here something happens emotionally and artistically which is hard to put into words. To spare you the essay, let’s just say it completely captivates me. Derek Giberson, the young genius responsible for mapping out the string section, has taken Robb’s intriguing lyrics and provided a kind of musical mirror which explodes into the album’s highest point at 2:53. Words can’t really do it justice… just listen.

The odyssey that is The River could easily bring the record to a satisfying conclusion, but the tenth and final track Dragonflies is well worth sticking around for, with Robb lamenting: The summer’s ending and the songbird is singing her last song/and all the dragonflies find a warm place to hide/I’m bound to be moving on. The theme of departure and longing, whether in love or geography, is book-ended here, and this touching debut comes to a close. By now there will likely be a handful of songs you want to hear again. Go for it these recordings just keep getting better every time you hear them. With her unique beauty and perspective, Trish Robb is an artist that every lover of honest, heartfelt folk music should familiarize themselves with. Did I mention she’s an awesome person?




THE GOOD: Strong lead and backing vocals; effective piano; powerful and creative string arrangements; a sincere and intimate approach to songwriting

THE BAD: The occasional rhythmic flub in the lyrics: ie. wrong emPHAsis on the wrong syLLABle. Also, the second half of the album is much stronger than the first, so if you’re the kind of music nerd who needs to be grabbed right away, you might want to start at track 10 and work your way backwards.

THE UGLY: Considering what Trish Robb has accomplished recording at various makeshift home studios, along with the pressures of having to finance and organize this album by herself how incredible could this album have been given better circumstances. One can only wonder: have the record companies noticed ?


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by: Lee Mellor

trish robb – the hockey song from OutOf Tune on Vimeo.