Robyn Hitchcock Offers Satisfying Folk-Rock for a Winter’s Day

11 Dec

Prolific singer-songwriter, Robyn Hitchcock, has recorded no less than 23 albums during a career that has spanned nearly four decades. From his first studio album with the neo-psychedelic band, The Soft Boys, in 1976 to his latest solo release, The Man Upstairs, the U.K.-based artist has always produced music that’s distinctive and expressive, with vocals that recall John Lennon or Bob Dylan at their peak.

Yet Hitchcock is not just another singer-songwriter playing guitar- and piano-based indie folk. He’s an original. All of which makes The Man Upstairs an interesting study in contrasts.

Hitchcock is first and foremost a terrific performer. He can take any song and make it his own through a creative interpretation. His vocals range from fragile and vulnerable to warm and comforting. So, it’s interesting that what he and well-known producer, Joe Boyd, decided for The Man Upstairs, is to make an album with a mix of five original compositions and five covers.

In the end, we’re left with a mellow, introspective, decidedly Hitchcock-ian set of songs that becomes better with each listen. It’s a perfect companion for these rainy days of late fall/early winter.

The album opens with a fantastic cover of The Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You.” The Furs’ synths have been replaced with piano and beautifully played cello, backed by a steadily strummed acoustic guitar. It’s easily the best track on the CD.

That song is followed immediately by Hitchcock’s own “San Francisco Patrol,” a lovely love ballad with a rich, jangly fingerpicked guitar, piano, strings, and light accompanying vocals from Lise Frøkedal.

“Ferries” is a lighthearted, lilting cover of an original by Norwegian band, I Was a King, of which Frøkedal is a member. She sings the excellent harmonies on this number as well.

The outlier in this folk collection is “Somebody to Break Your Heart.” Penned by Hitchcock, it’s a bluesy folk-rock tune, with a downhome flavor. Bass, guitar and harmonica set up a funky groove.

One final song of note is the second-to-last track, “The Crystal Ship,” originally performed by the Doors. Hitchcock makes it his own with haunting vocals, piano and cello that would have fit nicely with the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” on Revolver.

In addition to being an amazing vocalist and songwriter, Hitchcock writes short stories, paints and draws. If you’re looking for an album that would be a great gift this Christmas by a singer-songwriter who’s a true artist, this is the one.

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