Theres something about the banjo as a lead instrument...something so giddy and instantly down-home. Alaskan singer-songwriter Robin Dale Ford has been in and out of pop and folk bands, playing bass and banjo, but its the latter that keeps calling her back; an her mastery of the instrument extends to her ability to evoke a range of emotions with it, from plaintiveness to exultation (though the basic, front porch-ready sound remains). Fords third solo album Aint That Skippin & Flyin offers 11 self-penned tracks that have the tone and structure of conventional contemporary folk balladry, but graced with traditional instrumentation that gives the songs a beautiful tension. Nowhere is this better illustrated than on Skippin & Flyins opening number, Hangin By a Wire. Brushed drums are joined by a rush of guitar, banjo, and mandolin that weaves away for half a minute before Ford begins sweetly crooning a fresh, somewhat abstract melody with a lyric about the anxieties of modern life. This dynamic repeats on absorbing cuts like Where Im Bound and He Cant Wish on a Star, which show Ford using the sounds of the past to approach the difficulties (and pleasures) of the present. Her music is trapped between old and new, yet Ford seems comfortable there, choosing not to choose.
Robin Dale Ford might be unusual in that shes a banjo-playing singer/songwriter. That in itself might not attract your attention, but her brights, uplifting, and wonderfully melodic songs surely will. Ford has one of those sweet and pure folk-style voices -- much like Alison Krauss but slightly fuller and more enjoyable. Her banjo playing is light and engaging, she writes lovely melodies, and she gives her songs just the right backing with guitar, mandolin, bass, and drums. This is one of those recordings that restores your faith in the art of songwriting and independent recordings. Highly recommended. (JLe)
Based on the evidence of this CD, Robin Dale Ford is a substantial talent. All 11 songs are hers, and they are consistently engaging, with the best ones, such as Hangin By a Wire, Strange New, and Where Im bound, being truly memorable. Her main instrument appears to be banjo, which she plays in a hybrid clawhammer manner, applying it to modern songs and chord progressions not typically associated with frailing. No, it isnt as radical a use of clawhammer as, say, Mark Johnsons Clawgrass, but it sure works.
Her singing voice is plaintive and lean, possessing a clarity that sacrifices
nothing in expressiveness. The arrangements are simple but thoughtful, with
attention paid to many details, keeping the ears attention. It is also
virtually all acoustic with, variously, guitar, bass, mandolin, and light percussion
(tambourine and the like) being the most frequent ensemble accoutrements.
Ford appears to live in Alaska, where this disc was recorded. Maybe her distinctiveness is borne of geographical isolation. Or maybe shes just distinctively gifted. Or maybe it is a little bit of both, and who cares anyway, when the results are all that matter, and they are terrific.
Beautiful...rich...sublime...these words come to my mind as I listen to Robin Dale Fords latest CD, aint that skippin & flyin. This is a wonderful musical window into the life of a woman in the prime of her life. Her spirit is as rich and colorful as the Alaskan countryside that she calls home. Everyone should own a copy of this delightful CD as a reminder that life is good with all of its joys and sorrow. We are blessed.
I have fallen in love with [her] music and it is a pleasure to play it on the air.
Saving the best for last, however, is the 2nd release by ROBIN DALE FORD, "Ain't That Skippin' & Flyin'." In a string of strikingly high-quality releases by female folk singers/players that have come my way recently, this is one of the best yet. We already knew that Robin could sing and play banjo, from her first CD. What I wanted to hear more of was her songwriting, remember? Well, this CD is a full-course meal of nothing but RDF originals and brother, are they ever good!
From the opener of "Hangin' By A Wire" through "Only Myself To Blame" & "He Can't Wish On A Star" to the concluding "Light In The Morning," this is world-class stuff. Catchy songs, with hooks that grab you hard abound, laced with lyrics that are simple, memorable yet wholly powerful. When you add in the unique blend of ROBIN's wonderfully engaging voice and her masterful banjo playing, plus lots more instrumentation that on her above debut to flesh out the sound, the end results are a glorious album. It's one that has driven to the very heights of current folk releases, and if I was the editor of Dirty Linen, I'd be considering this lady for a big article.
This CD of original songs shares stories, philosophy and the wisdom of Robin Dale Ford. And its presented with such grace, you may find a message without looking for it. Where Im Bound presents a concern for wilderness without the preachiness that often accompanies songs on that subject. Many of the stories are written like abstract poetry, letting your imagination fill in the details. The instrumentation is uncluttered, never getting in the way of the words, which is appropriated for a songwriters recording. Robins rock solid old-timey banjo is present, but not always prominent, in most songs. She also covers bass, accordion, piano and various percussive instruments. Pat Fitzgerald (who engineered the recording at 10th Planet Studios) plays tasteful percussion and electric guitar. Alex Clarkes soulful slide guitar poignantly answers the lyrical phrases in Strange News. He also sits in on dobro for the almost-bluegrass He Cant Wish on a Star. Eric Graves and Forrest Gibson alternate on guitar and mandolin throughout the CD injecting contagious, percussive energy. Grant Dermody adds harmonica on the rhythmic, rolling Signs of Life. Most importantly, Robins vocals are right where they should be...up front and crystalline. At the end of the CD she appears to leave us with the tender Light in the Morning and then the extra unannounced title cut kicks in, feeling just like a live performance from one of Robins one-woman-one-banjo shows.
Of course I particularly enjoy "Aint' That Skippin' & Flyin" but "Down In My Heart" is the kind of album which is absolutely rare to find in these times and really a brave choice. However, only a banjo can be more than sufficient when you have truly a wonderful voice, definitely sweet and melodious, to sing a number of superb songs, well selected among some of the best contemporary songwriters: it is also the proof that some songs such like "Vagabond Moon" and "Reason To Believe" are the product of an unbroken circle binding their composers to the rich American tradition! "Ain't That Skippin' & Flyin" has obviously better arrangements, very fine indeed, and also shows how Robin grew as a songwriter with some terrific songs such like "Soulful Hills", "Only Myself To Blame" and above all the delightful "Falling Into Grace".
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