Robinson & Rohe – Into The Night (Righteous Babe Records)
What you have here is the product of two hardcore music fanatics – life partners, madly in love and each phenomenally talented, musically, in highly complementary ways. Thank goodness they found each other! If they did nothing else ever again, they could sit back and relax on their laurels for having written and performed the landmark song, “Follow”. It tunnels its way deep into your brain and stays put, providing the ultimate soundtrack to just about any activity imaginable.
Picking up where 2017’s Hunger left off, Into The Night is an extremely lush serving up of sparkling, all-original songs, beautifully rendered with Jean Rohe’s breathtaking voice taking most of the leads and, while Liam Robinson champions a turn or two, his additional strength is found in his delicate, seamless harmonies and, most certainly, creating these outspoken arrangements.
Launching into the title track, their two voices intertwined, a barely-there banjo teases the powerful bursts of orchestration that follow. You’ll hear a cacophony of instrumentation which ebbs and flows around this sweet duet, including accordion, drums, clarinet, tenor sax, electric guitar, added background vocals and more – in loving tribute to the spirit of communion which results from a night of live music.
“Off Track” is an infectious little ditty underlining the soul-stealing pace of today’s hyper-active lifestyles – as it steers us in favour of re-focusing on what’s really important, to rediscover the hidden values of living life to the less-than-fullest. An accompanying video demonstrates this very well. Rohe’s crystal-clear vocals – and Robinson’s close-cut harmonies – lead as a full aggregate of drums, bass, acoustic guitars, accordion and (what sounds like a) harmonium create a remarkably upbeat song.
The buoyant, fiddle and banjo-driven “Where I’m Coming From” signals an allegiance to, and love for, Pete Seeger’s school of using music to advocate for racial equality and the fight to remedy injustice – here, zeroing in on the whitewashing of America and its sorry impact on immigration and the lives of a multicultural populace. Robinson’s banjo and Duncan Wickel’s fiddle steal the show, rising and falling with Rohe’s determined vocal in full-on folk mode.
Robinson’s “Ways Down The Road” is little more than banjo and acoustic bass, augmented by the pair’s whisper-quiet harmonies, joined in a way seldom heard on solid ground.
The comparatively pop-ish “Hey, Houdini” is a highlight, as Rohe’s sturdy, stand-out vocal lets loose to full band accompaniment and then some. Banjo and guitar join an uplifting chorus of backing singers (Michelle Willis, Starr Busby, Ahmad Simmons) while Bob Lanzetti’s aggressive electric guitar accents create, with the help of a tight rhythm section (Tony Mason, drums; Christopher Tordini, electric bass), a rich, full-bodied sound.
Meanwhile, back in the cathedral, the cloud-opening, introspective grace of a Chorale revisit to “Ways Down the Road” features French horn, flugelhorn, clarinet and more – a hymn-like blend carefully orchestrated to lend a surprisingly classical bent to ‘the show.’
From such reverence, one skips to the comparably jarring “Singing Like A Saw” – a novelty of a jaunty singalong offering replete with drums, tuba, electric guitar, bass, whistles and an outright burlesque feel. Trading leads on the verses, when R&R’s combined vocals meet on the chorus, it’s a true treat, underlining that they do make a good pair.
A very sophisticated track follows with Rohe’s “Where Did You Go?”, impeccably arranged by Robinson to dramatic effect. The absolute clarity of Rohe’s voice joins a jazzy, almost theatrical backdrop highlighted by the warmth of Tordini’s acoustic bass, simpatico guitar and a delightful swirl of gentle horns and woodwinds. Herein, Rohe exercises her “Hissing of Summer Lawns”-era Joni, delivering another facet of her distinctive vocal flair.
As mentioned, the truly stunning “Follow” is like no other song on the album. Its intricate arrangement comprised of ultra-warm acoustic bass, rudimentary banjo and guitar offers a compassionate backdrop. Could two human voices ever merge together more beautifully than Robinson & Rohe on this blissful track? Truly a love song for the ages.
Robinson takes vocal lead on his equally breathtaking “One Last Waltz” as Rohe provides heartfelt harmonies while another inventive horn arrangement lifts the piece skyward and beyond. Robinson’s banjo and Sam Sadigursky’s clarinet add to some kitschy outbursts while a surprisingly biting guitar solo (Kyle Morgan) actually serves to underline the intensity of this performance.
The reprise of “Into the Night” demands attention from its spare reliance on military snare – a coda to the title track – as its strong melody is recalled using powerful elements of percussion, piano, fiddle and horn flourishes together with the delicate touch of R&R’s beautifully entwined voices.
“What of the incredible variety of musical styles and approaches on one album?”, you might well ask. A veritable cabaret and a cavalcade of musical approaches, if not a full folk revue with classical embellishments, their sophomore release shoots for the moon and is a showpiece for R&R’s many talents. This near-cinematic collection of eleven original songs – complete with an opening and closing – presents as being akin to a Broadway production itself. Credit the coming together of two powerful songwriters and, while Rohe may be the more committed folk artist with multiple solo albums to her credit, together with the positive critical recognition she deserves, Robinson brings the added perspective of a music and vocal director behind Anais Mitchell’s Tony Award-winning Broadway release of Hadestown when he’s not a member of the impressive Becca Stevens Band or an actual Broadway cast member, himself.
The extreme versatility of Into The Night represents a wealth of ideas which likely transform each R& R dinner table conversation into a full-fledged chalk talk. Is a Broadway release of Into The Night be far behind? If not, the combination of these two artists makes a truly compelling argument for where this degree of promise might go next.
Find more information on Robinson & Rohe here: https://www.robinsonandrohe.com/