Anybody at any one of the many folk music festivals this summer can’t have failed to notice the numbers of youngsters swanning about almost non-ironically in 1950s garb. The beatnik look is back, but the sounds, by and large, remain firmly rooted in commercial 21st Century folk-rock. Ed Sheeran has much to answer for, as the numbers of his impersonators continue to swell. Authenticity, as it turns out, is harder to buy on the high street than braces and moustache wax.
Thank God then for Andy Robinson, who among the miasma of cherub-faced troubadours in Topshop fedoras might be the first genuine modern beatnik. His third album, Willamina Machine, runs the gamut from the dank corners of the California Streets to the most vodka soaked of Russian Gypsy dances, frequently in full-throated abandon. So much so that you’d never guess he actually hails from the mean streets of Worcester. He sounds like he means it.
The self-conscious Americana is delivered with wit, as in the sushi bar described in ‘Her and the Pancakes’ as ‘$50 for a smile and a dead fish’. It recalls Tom Waits’ famous early patter about a cheap diner steak so tough it attacks the coffee that’s too weak to defend itself. Waits’s influence is also apparent on the trio of Vaudevillian style tracks ‘100 Miles an Hour’, ‘Lady in White’ and ‘Show Me a Sign’. However, Robinson has a much more dynamic vocal range; his roar maintains a melodic edge without compromising any rock’n’roll swagger.
The album is not without its subtle moments. ‘Waiting on Cinderella’ lifts the melody from John Lennon’s ‘Beautiful Boy’ and combines it with an Ed Harcourt croon for a lilting and affecting ballad, while closing track ‘Home’ is a completely stripped down lament on divorce and family breakdown, with Robinson’s vocals soaring starkly over bare acoustic guitar. Meanwhile there’s ‘Bury Me Good’, a grand ol’ hokey country song with holler-along chorus.
At barely over 30 minutes length Willamina Machine manages to pack in such a range of styles and genres that it would be impossible for anyone not to find something they liked. For those who can’t resist a bit of squeezebox, tub-thumping and lyrical gymnastics (including the best, perhaps only use of the term ‘overbaking’ in a song) then this album is essential. Pay no heed to the pretenders, Robinson is the real deal. He also wears beatnik clothes too.
Words: James Robinson