Rock & roll fans tend to favor bands that can light up a dark, smoky rock club. But what about those songwriters who can quiet a room with little more than an acoustic guitar and a songbook full of introspection? Enter Abi Robins, whose first full-length, Conversations with Myself, won't knock you down with volume or mind-bending musical and lyrical prowess, but will engage by asking a fair amount of tough questions and disclosing a few hard-won life lessons.
At first blush her songs are pretty and unassuming, and a slightly bluesy undercurrent accompanies the folksy strums and sweet vocals. Despite the limitations of this girl-and-guitar configuration, Robins and her cohorts fill out her songs without obscuring their heart. The double-tracked vocals on "The Drive" are slightly staggered, lending the tune a fittingly bipolar effect. An electric piano and some quick-wristed drumming give "If the Shoe Fits" a nice bounce, and the punchy backdrop gives Robins a little spring in her step. Later a harmonica cuts the urgent, minor-chord strums of "This Easy," even if the rushing rhythms can't mask the off-key singing and world-weary triteness of lyrics like "Life is short, and death is long."
This grim specter of death pops up again later — slightly odd for a mostly upbeat album by such a young artist. On "Someday," however, Robins lets the spare guitar picking and her husky rasp sell the pathos. (The flanger-heavy outro? Not so much.) And Conversations is not without its pretensions: The spoken-word "Decrescendo" is over before it begins, and the instrumental "Battman" is pleasant but not robust enough to stand alone without lyrics.
But these missteps are brief and mostly forgivable. Robins' confident voice and self-assured swagger give her a leg up over many of her peers, and if she sticks with songwriting long enough to get past the existential ennui that afflicts most young writers, her Conversations may begin to look outward.
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