Finding the rhythm again

  • Robin Lane. Contributed photo—

  • Robin Lane. Contributed photo

For the Recorder
Published: 1/21/2021 8:54:41 AM

“Stuck in your ivory tower/Is this the year of the plague/Can’t get away from here/What are you looking for/Does it run away when you come near?” sings Robin Lane on her new single “It’s Your World.” I was immediately struck by the timeliness of the lyrics, Lane’s intense, strong voice and the incredible catchiness of this song, which is one of 16 tracks off Lane’s recent release “Instant Album.”  

Melodic hooks are the stamp of some of the Shelburne Falls resident’s best known work with The Chartbusters, a Boston-based band she fronted and scored a series of hits with in the 1980s including “When Things Go Wrong,” a tune that bears the distinction of being one of the first songs played on MTV. 

And while the lyrics would suggest that they were written in response to current events, I was surprised to discover that the song was done in 1992 and originally appeared on a compilation to benefit Walden Woods (not one of Don Henley’s projects). Whether the song is eerily prophetic or simply a weird coincidence, it’s an excellent tune that serves as a perfect introduction to “Instant Album.”

This new release is a collection of songs that Lane wrote and recorded between 1969 and 2010 that had never been on any of her albums before.

“I put this album together as something to sell at gigs, back before I had to go to L.A. for two years, so it's been three years since it was first put together,” wrote Lane in a recent email. Encouraged by a writer in Chicago who heard the disc and loved it, she thought now might be a good time to release it.

“I thought, ‘Well, I'll make it into a real album with graphics and all and maybe other people will like it too,’” she said.

Lane, who moved to Western Massachusetts in the early 2000s, also saw it as a way to get back into music after laying low for quite a while. In recent years Lane has been busy fostering the songwriting of others through Songbirds Sings Inc., the organization she founded in 2010 to use songwriting as a tool for dealing with trauma. She also was the subject of a 2014 documentary “When Things Go Wrong: Robin Lane’s Story.”

The material on “Instant Album” is extremely wide-ranging and shows that Lane’s musical talent goes far beyond pop-rock (or “new wave,” as The Chartbusters band was labeled). On these tracks, she works with a diverse group of collaborators who help bring out these different sides of her music. The result is an album that ranges from quirky experiments, to powerful emotional songs, to strong political statements. We get a glimpse of where Lane’s life has been at various points in time.

A perfect example of the variety here are the songs “Kitty Kat” and “Banana,” two jazzy numbers that also offer up some offbeat humor. Both songs were recorded with Four Man Suit, a band out of Boston whose name you might not recognize but whose music you have likely heard, as it has been used in a variety of television shows. These tunes give Lane a chance to sing in a style that we aren’t used to hearing from her. She puts a sultry spin on the line, “I wanna be your banana” on “Banana” and her voice is even more expressive than usual on “Kitty Kat,” a song that even features some meowing.

Further highlights are “Special to Me,” a trippy psychedelic rocker; “Not So Bad,” which features some nice fiddle work by Johnny Cunningham; and “Gaps to Justice,” a song about the death penalty that hankers back to Lane’s roots as a folk singer who used to sing with Neil Young.

These 16 songs also are lyrically all over the place, from political songs like “Military Man,” on which she collaborates with Scott Baerenwald, of The Chartbusters, and “Please Like Me,” a little ditty where she sings “Like me like me like/I need to be loved” — noting in the liner notes that she grew up in the same neighborhood as Sally Field, so there must be something in the water. Then there’s the emotionally riveting “Benjamin,” one of her earliest songs that she wrote while pregnant with a child she later put up for adoption.

And it turns out Lane was encouraging young songwriters long before starting Songbird Sings because four of the tracks here were written by young girls who attended a poetry workshop she taught at Camp Runoia in Maine. Lane put their words to music and the result is songs like “Casey Bye Bye,” a country-tinged folk song about the death of a pet dog, and “Leaving You,” a pretty song about loss and saying goodbye.

Next up, Lane is currently recording a bunch of new songs that she hopes to release in the spring. If you want to keep up on her activities, consider becoming a member of her newly launched Patreon Page. “Instant Album” is available on all streaming services or can be purchased at therobinlane.com.

Wallace Field releases ‘Crystal Mirror’

Folk musician Wallace Field (aka Chelsea Field, of Greenfield) has released a new five-song digital EP titled “Crystal Mirror.” This project came about when Field, who was a member of the trio Ona Canoa, had the recording of her debut album postponed due to the pandemic. She still was seeking a creative outlet and realized she had written some songs that stood apart from her usual personal writing in that they featured other-worldly narrators. These were not songs intended for the debut, so in July she teamed up with Nate Mondschein of Echo Base Production and they recorded “Crystal Mirror” at Field’s home.  

These five songs are different from Field’s work with Ona Canoa, which was more in the folk style. This is a more adventurous mix with the songs having an airy, magical feel to them that take listeners to another world. Mix some Kate Bush with some Fairport Convention and Fleet Foxes and then toss in some synths and electric guitars for good measure and you just might scratch the surface of what “Crystal Mirror” is all about. Field chooses to call it “folk music of tomorrow.”

There’s a beauty to songs like “Clare,” which is a sad love song that is based on the character in “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” while the epic “The End” features dramatic singing from Field and touches on themes of longing and change. Mondschein’s production, especially the layers of some of the vocals on the song, help make this an appealing and atmospheric piece.

“Disarm,” in which she chants the lines, “When we were younger, everyone was kinder/ But now we’re grown and we can never go home again/Erasing me from you won’t change what’s fact and true /If you cause harm, you should disarm,” is accompanied by only drums and synth and has a hymn-like quality to it that, as Field explains, is an ethereal ode to online echo chambers. “Only Moon” sounds like a traditional folk song from days long gone. 

“Recording ‘Crystal Mirror’ was a much-needed respite from everything going on in our world right now,” wrote Field. “I hope it can be a thoughtful escape for others, too.”

And it is.

Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at soundslocal@yahoo.com.


Jobs



Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.


Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy