After singing for twenty plus years almost exclusively within her car, Nell Robinson has set off on a new musical journey and solidified her place within roots music circles with her latest album. She includes many styles (ranging in scope from old time to Cajun-themed pieces) on her new album On the Brooklyn Road, creating mass appeal with this broad stretch of tunes. Drawing from her Southern roots within the small town of Red Level, Alabama, Robinson (singing under a pseudonym taken from her grandmother) allows the listener to connect with her through stories as well as songs.
The talking tracks within this album contribute a unique flavor which is not often seen in today’s mainstream music. Seven of the twenty-one tracks included on this disc are field recordings of her family exchanging tales which have been passed down through the generations. Stories lead into both self-penned songs and familiar selections like Albert Brumley’s tune Turn Your Radio On, providing hilarious anecdotes which act as introductions to each respective song. These stories relate situations that listeners with rural roots across America may find both familiar and humorous. Radio Reception stands out in particular, featuring young boys figuring out that peeing on a ground wire has the same effect as pouring water on it when attempting to pick up better radio reception. Through these glimpses into Robinson’s family history, listeners are treated to a more personal experience, bringing them closer to the artist.
Robinson’s inclusion of five original pieces gives validity to her songwriting skills. Several tunes, such as Wahatchee, which is set during the Civil War, document historical figures and events that listeners will find intriguing. Other songs offer a more modern glimpse of life: Don’t Light My Fire, a clever tongue-in-cheek song depicts a woman who simply does not need another deadbeat man in her life and displays Robinson’s talents well.
Robinson’s voice shares similarities with Emmylou Harris as she covers material previously recorded by legends like Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, and Loretta Lynn. Her interpretation of Lynn’s I’m a Honky Tonk Girl played in a stripped down style with guitar and dobro is particularly moving while other pieces like the two bonus tracks are light and bouncy. In a tribute to the 1930’s sister act the DeZurik Sisters, Robinson is accompanied by Cary Sheldon to perform two pieces: Big Ball in Texas and the Crawdad Song. Joined by many prominent musicians like John Reischman, Nick Hornbuckle, and Rob Ickes, the instrumentation is also excellent throughout.
It is only fitting that the last track on the album is yet another story delivered by Uncle Marc, who conveys several of the album’s narrations. Robinson’s mixture of creative songwriting, top notch musicianship, and comical stories allows her to achieve her apparent goal of connecting with fans. Both witty and sweet, this album shows that this self-described “late bloomer” is just now beginning to blossom.