Jimmy Robinson's technique is inescapable on the new Guitarworks.
When Jimmy Robinson opens Guitarworks with "Can't Stop Drinking," he and Washboard Chaz are locked in a heated blues foot race. Robinson's remarkable ability isn't immediately obvious. I'm sure the song's harder to play than it sounds, but he makes slide and burred notes on his acoustic guitar sound effortless and exactly right. Only the occasional trill on "Everything Music Got" reminds you what a prodigious player Robinson is. For the most part, he keeps your attention focused on the song's story of a couple clearing off the remains of their failed life together.
The challenge on Guitarworks is how to strike the balance between Robinson's ability and what best serves the songs. Playing the guitar remarkably is what he does, so he understandably honors that talent. When it shows up too prominently in songs with lyrics, the moment becomes about the trill or run, and the thought the words express is momentarily lost. Fortunately, Robinson has the sort of discipline you'd expect from someone who can play the way he does, so he saves most of his showy moments for instrumentals, when you expect him to go off. I have a soft spot for one, "Colin Brown," named for the Motorway guitarist, singer and songwriter who died last year.
Robinson is at his most compelling on Guitarworks when he takes chances. A virtuoso guitarist covering "Little Wing" isn't going out on a limb; remaking it as a dirge and giving the high-drama moments the Bonerama Horns is. He also smartly highlights an underappreciated part of Jimi Hendrix's talent - his ability to accompany himself as a singer. On "You Make Me Crazy," he brings a number of his texture-oriented techniques to his performance to create a sense of craziness, which he emphasizes with an extended, overdubbed chorus singing insistent, claustrophobic la-la-las. Because little on the album sounds dubbed in, the moment steps out of the voice of the album and is a little jarring, but that also gives it impact. I'll return to it before the perfectly fine versions of "Eight Miles High" and Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" because these versions have nothing new for me beyond hearing Robinson play them.
During Susan Cowsill's show covering Dusty in Memphis, Jimmy Robinson had a moment when it looked like he was tapping with the pinky of his left hand, which was also chording on the neck, as well as tapping with his right hand. He can do that sort of thing, though it's not a talent everybody values. Robinson doesn't deny his abilities, but by stripping down to a single guitar for the most part and employing them judiciously on songs that have folk-rock at their cores, he presents them in their best light.