Americana Roots: Kenny Roby

Americana Roots highlights the freshest and most original Americana and bluegrass from across the pond in the US.  It covers everything from brand-new, just out of the box bands, to cult favourites, to established acts who have yet to reach the UK’s shores.  Songwriting-confessional-troubadour Kenny Roby has long been singing about his life and the world around him since his earliest days with 6-String Drag.  This look at the world continues on his latest album, ‘The Reservoir’.

Name: Kenny Roby.

For Fans Of: Robert Earl Keen, Guy Clark, Todd Snider.

Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina, USA.

Website: https://kennyroby.net/

Discography:  ‘Mercury’s Blues’ (1999), ‘Black River Sides’ (with Neal Casal, 1999), ‘Rather Not Know’ (2002), ‘The Mercy Filter’ (2006), ‘Memories & Birds’ (2013), ‘The Reservoir’ (2020)

Background: Kenny Roby’s career has been long and full of twists.  He first came to prominence fronting North Carolina’s seminal 6-String Drag who were a key part of the nineties alt-country/ Americana movement. When they came to end, Roby embarked on a solo career that has seen him release five albums between 1999 and 2013 that were full of his thoughtful, engaging songwriting.

After a seven-year break since his last album, 2013’s ‘Memories & Birds’, Roby has released his latest, ‘The Reservoir’, a sparse, personal narrative built on pain, loss, and the hardships of life.  For Roby the album was a reflection of a turbulent few years.  Following a brief reunion of 6-String Drag, Roby found his marriage was coming to an end at the same time as he was dealing with the death of some close friends and family.  Roby was also deeply affected by the social and political upheaval swirling throughout the country the past few years.  With all of that Roby began to craft songs that narrated those troubled times.

That narration took on even more resonance with the knowledge that Roby’s good-friend, guitarist Neal Casal who was set to produce the new album, only to tragically take his own life in August of last year right before recording was set to start.  Casal was excited to start work on Roby’s new album, and had been excitedly talking about it before his untimely death with Hard Working Americans bandmate, bassist Dave Schools, best known as part of Widespread Panic.  Schools and Roby connected at a tribute show for Casal a few months later, and began discussing Roby’s new album.  Schools was intrigued by the possibilities and agreed to take over production duties.

The resulting album ‘The Reservoir’, released in August of 2020, is a welcome return for Roby.  Like the best of Roby’s music it easily veers between different moods and emotion.  It slyly moves from a slow-drag-dirge to a country-tinged confessional to a simple, lilting upbeat rocker, all carried along by Roby’s powerful, introspective word-play.  When he sings, “New strings on an old guitar still sounds pretty,” on ‘New Strings’ he could easily be singing about himself reaching middle age.  His songs have always been very self-reflective and this holds true on ‘The Reservoir’.  In addition to the tragedy of Casal, that album also came at a time of personal upheaval for Roby, and it is reflected in the sixteen tracks of ‘The Reservoir’.

The album covers everything from simple songwriter strums and laments, to a glorious full-band reckoning.  There are banjos and acoustic guitars, songs about addiction and acceptance, and personal reflections on the past.  The album is guided by Roby’s life and by the spiritual spectre of Casal.  “Neal dying was tragic and traumatic for many of us, but what he was able to do in bringing people together was remarkable. It’s a kind of soul-networking,” says Roby. “His death brought on other kinds of healing. It brought me deeper into my recovery and into growing up and living for the day and knowing what I want. That’s been a gift.”

What He Sounds Like:

 

Author: Tim Newby

Author of books, writer of words, enjoyer of good times. Often found barefoot at a festival somewhere. 'Bluegrass in Baltimore: The Hard Drivin' Sound & Its Legacy' (2015), 'Leftover Salmon: Thirty Years of Festival! (2019)

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