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Kenny Roby & Forest Sun: Kindred Spirits of Americana

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For all the attention garnered in recent years by the The Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, the Lumineers, et.al., a raft of other Americana artists go largely unrecognized. The Felice Brothers top the list of the unsung nouveau folksters, but Kenny Roby and Forest Sun should be in that tally too: with the former's eponymous album and the latter's Follow The Love, both continue adding to respectable bodies of work in which honest, forthright songwriting engenders comparably spare and purposeful musicianship. These two artists have come to thrive on their independence in such a way their self-motivation not only nurtures their creativity, but also allows them to instill their virtues of understatement and economy into their work so that their collaborators manifest those very same attributes.

Kenny Roby
Kenny Roby
Royal Potato Family
2022

The once and future linchpin of alternative country pioneers Six-String Drag follows Widespread Panic's Dave Schools-produced The Reservoir (Royal Potato Family, 2020) with a fittingly eponymous LP. Whereas Roby confronted some daunting life experiences from his past on the previous record—like this one done at Applehead in Woodstock, NY where it was recorded and mixed by Chris Bittner—here he is well into the process of moving on. The evidence lies most clearly in songs such as the (appropriate) opener "New Day," soon followed by "Leave It Behind," but this is a song cycle that, in a very real way, mirrors the circle of life itself. Amy Helm's voice adds a sonorous gospel resonance to the former, while the former rhythm section of the The Chris Robinson Brotherhood—bassist Jeff Hill and drummer Tony Leone—underpin the latter with every bit of the resolute attitude that permeates the song itself and the performance of it. To be sure, this is Roby's album and as fastidiously-arranged as it is to accommodate the multi-instrumental versatility of Daniel Littleton, the supporting musicians and singers all follow the frontman's lead; for instance, on "Married to a Train," the former titular leader of Lovin' Spoonful, John Sebastian, first blows ghostly tones on harmonica to underscore the portentous lead vocal, then breathes a jaunty air into "I Don't Believe In Magic" that, even as it belies the title, nonetheless reinforces the gaiety of the musicianship. "What's Happenin' Here"  features not only the acoustic textures that dominate these arrangements, but a dollop or two of extra percussion that's indicative of the small touches that extend the overall range of Kenny Roby. 

Forest Sun
Follow The Love
Painted Sun
2022

If folk music remains the musical voice of conscience, then in terms of his perseverance in the field alone, Forest Sun must be considered one of its major proponents.  Yet, this fourteenth(!) album title aside, the upper New York State native doesn't trade in homilies. Instead he accentuates the point(s) of such originals as "This Little Light of Mine" and "Embers" by juxtaposing them with covers including the late Tom Petty's "Wildflowers" and the latter-day Creedence Clearwater Revival song of John Fogerty's "Have You Ever Seen The Rain?" In fact, the former reaffirms the dual themes of devotion and adoration in the title song, while the latter suggests insularity in and of itself is not a reasonable means of existence in 2022. For all the quiet intimacy that pervades this album, the gentle but sure high-step in "That Other Shore" offers contrast in texture and mood via Adam Theis' jaunty horns (ever-so-reminiscent of the late Allen Toussaint's arrangements for The Band). Perhaps not surprisingly given its authorship, this rendition of Donovan Leitch's "Colours" sounds a bit precious for its own good despite Sun's stentorian voice, but it's otherwise another instance of the sterling musicianship here: co-producer Gawain Matthews' mandolin ultimately rescues the cut in combination with similarly playful dobro of Mike Witcher. Fortunately, the very next track is not John Denver's "Country Roads;" its refrain notwithstanding, "Take Me Home," is instead perky roots-oriented rock and roll with accents of blues and New Orleans jazz. As such, it is perfectly indicative of the authentically eclectic style Forest Sun and company proffer with such understatement and good humor on these fifteen tracks. 

Tracks and Personnel

Kenny Roby Tracks: New Day; Only Once; Leave It Behind; I Call Everybody buddy; Married to a Train; Sailor's Request; I Don't Believe It's Magic; What's Happenin' Here; God Sized Hole; Ain't Your Baby No More; Suzanne; Working on a New House.

Personnel: Kenny Roby: vocals, acoustic guitars, Mellotron, chitarra battente; Daniel Littleton: acoustic guitars, electric guitars, 12-string guitar electric piano, piano, Mellotron, shruti box; John Sebastian: harmonica; Brian Mitchell: accordion; Amy Laber: autoharp; Any Helm: vocals; Dori Freeman: vocals; Jeff Hill: bass guitar, bowed bass, cello; Tony Leone: drums, percussion.

Follow The Love

Tracks: Follow The Love; Wildflowers; That Other Shore; Colours; Take Me Home; Have You Ever Seen The Rain?; Katie Lee; I'm Proud Of You (For Loving Me); Will You Come With Me Where I Go?; This Little Light Of Mine; Embers; Magpie; Lose Your Mind Rag; A Million; Sleepyhead.

Personnel: Forest Sun: vocals, acoustic guitar, drums, whistle, percussion; Gawain Mathews: harmony vocals, Hammond organ, upright bass, electric bass, mandolin, electric guitar, baritone electric guitar,  slide guitar, resonator guitar, pedal steel, acoustic guitar piano, percussion; Mike Witcher: dobro; Gabe Witcher: violin; Andy Lentz: violin; Adam Theis: horns; Steve Adams: upright bass; Michael Messer: drums; Rob Hooper: drums; Heather Masse: harmony vocals; Lara Louise: harmony vocals; Lia Rose: harmony vocals; Kelly McFarling: harmony vocals; Ingrid Serban: harmony vocals.

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