An electric mix of songs with some impressive collaborators makes for an enjoyable journey.
For many years Ric Robertson has made his home happily in New Orleans, revelling in the crackling vibrancy of cultures but as the title of ‘Carolina Child’ suggests, home is sometimes where the heart is. Robertson was born and raised in North Carolina, and a flippant comment made by songwriter Esther Rose upon seeing the look of delight on his face when the tour bus rode through his home state would inspire the name of the album.
‘Getting Over Our Love’ is the opening track, and you’re immediately struck by Robertson’s smokey vocals and effortless kind of cool. “Are things looking up / Is life treating you good / Are you shining brighter than you ever knew you could / Are you out with somebody else getting over our love?” he asks of a lost love. The easy going, classic country-style ‘Harmless Feeling’ sees Oliver Wood of The Wood Brothers feature on slide guitar and get a writing credit too (he started the song and Robertson finished it with Carsie Blanton – while the pair were sheltering in a back alley as a Southern tornado swept through a nearby swamp nonetheless). “And plain to see that I’m still breathing / There ain’t no damage done / It’s just a harmless feeling,” cries Robertson, his delivery making the lie he’s telling clear.
Celebrated newcomer Logan Ledger provides guest vocals on the trippy, psychedelia-tinged ‘Sycamore Hill’, a track inspired by a week Robertson spent in isolation at a cabin – surrounded by sycamores – at North Carolina’s Hanging Rock State Park. ‘Thinkin’ About You’ showcases a knack for clever wordplay that seemingly pours with an unconscious ease from Robertson’s mouth: “Eventually a seed will start to growing into something that you’d never have expected to believe in / Till you’re falling deeper into something that you’ve never seen / Full of sugarplums and turtle doves and every other nickname anybody’s ever used to call.”
There are two songs originally recorded by other artists on the album: ‘My Love Never Sleeps’ is the first (originally laid down by Blue Yonder) and it’s upbeat in its bluesy steadfast faith in love: “Like the ivy clinging to the wall / Like the crash of niagara falls / Like the echo of the lost highway / I’ll come home to you safe I pray.” The second cover, ‘Rollin’ River’ (this time originally recorded by Jonathan Henley in 2016), is a rockabilly affair with an infectious beat.
‘Anna Rosa’ sees Robertson call in another famous friend, this time with Dori Freedman who adds gentle harmonies to this breezy, surf rock of a sad tale (“Now she’s higher and higher / Hangin’ on a codeine kitestring / Without even knowing / Up and up she goes”). ‘I Don’t Mind’ is meanderingly jazz-inspired and sees Robertson assure without worry, “I don’t mind dancing with you / Baby you can have my number / And if you got somebody to go home to / You can call me if you ever want another.”
“Carolina child keep me lush and low / Made of the mountain / Bound for the shore,” sings Robertson on the album’s title track, a love letter to his younger self. But that doesn’t mean he’s focusing too hard on the past to keep moving forward: “I just love music and I try to remain a student of it,” he has said. “That’s where the playfulness comes in. I’m never going to master this, I’ll always be learning.” Indeed, this is an album that proves that just maybe you can go home again, but it’s heartening to know that Robertson is well aware that a musician’s journey is a lifelong one. And if this is where a place of learning has taken him, we wait eagerly for his discoveries to continue.