Normally a Robin Adams album leads one to search a thesaurus looking for alternatives to winsome, melancholic, introspective, sensitive and words like that. Adams’ albums have portrayed him as a singer songwriter very much in the folk/bedsit tradition with luminaries such as Bert Jansch and Nick Drake often summoned to serve as comparisons. Wrong Road Home is however a splendid change of direction as Adams delivers a lively, sometimes raucous, elsewhere tender, collection of songs, delivered in a folk and country style with a decidedly American bent. It’s noted that Canadian folk duo Kacy and Clayton appear on several of the songs.
The album is inspired by some of Adams’ favourite American songwriters – people such as Hank Williams and Michael Hurley (we’d add Woody Guthrie, The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers to the pile) – while the music is a wonderful mix of string band excellence and hillbilly musings. Banjo, fiddle, mandolin, pedal steel, Dobro and, yip, a singing saw, all feature, giving the album an authentic patina of old time Americana and all that entails. There’s trains and crossroads and ghosts in these tales of bad luck and while the songs are a joy to hear there isn’t really a happy moment to be heard. Meanwhile, Adams’ drawings which adorn the sleeve and the lyric booklet are surely a nod to Hurley.
From the instance when lonesome banjo and harmonica wander in through the saloon like front door of the title song, sounding for all the world like two weary travellers looking for a drink, we’re transported to the old west as Adams wanders into a nether world peopled by talking dogs and crows and blind men shooting arrows at the stars. It leads him to what does seem to be a last chance saloon where, ordering beer, he is given absinthe while seated next to an artist with “a hole right through his chest” wondering why he isn’t dead. With ragged fiddle, lonesome pedal steel and a wearied lope in its stride it’s a tremendous opener. Deep Down follows in a similar style but it digs deeper into weird old Americana, freighted with menace emanating from “the old dark woods” where “gallows swing and the moon stays round.”
Listening to these two opening songs, the only clue that these haven’t been unearthed from some Appalachian archive is Adams’ voice which retains his Scots accent. It’s a fantastic balancing act which he maintains throughout the album and it offers the opportunity to think not only of the Americans he celebrates here but also those pioneers of the 60s such as Hamish Imlach and especially the original Incredible String Band. The fiddle sozzled blues of Broke Down Empire Blues here could surely sit on the first ISB album while the jug band like Nobody Blues is a song which Imlach would have had great fun with. The Scots-American union reaches its zenith when Adams transports Burns’ Tam O’Shanter to the Ozarks, yodelling away like Jimmie Rodgers on The Ballad Of Tommy Shanter. This is quite fabulous. The saw offers the requisite amount of spookiness but there’s so much else bustling away, the pedal steel, a fiddle sawing, swarms of accordion and burbling banjo, all jostle together and raise the song into the realms of greatness. It’s not hyperbole to say this really. If you doubt, then have a listen and keep an ear out for the way there’s a brilliantly brief burst of bowed double bass denoting danger towards the end.
Adams waltzes through the album excellently, unveiling gem after gem. Too Far Gone is a hum bucking slice of Western Swing and Hungry Bob reminds one of Burl Ives or Pete Seeger’s’ kiddie friendly songs (with a dollop of Shel Silverstein). While Your Games is a pretty, Jansch influenced, guitar trip which is more in line with his previous releases, Sing To Me As I Sleep is a trip into Carter Family territory and the closing song, Floorboard Blues is wonderfully rudimentary as Adams sings and yodels an old time waltz quite brilliantly.
It’s not often that an album stops you in your tracks but when we first heard this we were quite gobsmacked by how good it is. It’s a total diversion for Adams and it’s astounding that he’s pulled it off so brilliantly. It probably does help if you’re enamoured of old time Americana to begin with but, coming in at the tail end of the year, we reckon it’s one of our top ten contenders. https://robinadams.bandcamp.com/album/wrong-road-home