Kenny Roby: Mercury's Blues
I'm always leery when I approach an album on which the artist plays every instrument, or damn near every instrument. I'm a firm believer in the chemistry of the group. Sure, it's nice for an artist to have complete control over his music, but oft times I think many single-artist albums could have used some more teamwork, if you will. There are a few artists who can get away with it, most of the time -- Lenny Kravitz, for instance; there are also those others who have gotten away with it once-Trent Reznor-and have since failed to measure up. And now there's this album by Kenny Roby titled Mercury's Blues that has been sitting comfortably at the head of my five CD changer...
Mr. Roby, I am happy to say, has certainly gotten away with playing every instrument, for at least this one time. The only thing he doesn't do on Mercury's Blues is play the violin, a task left up to Caitlin Cary, who also sings background vocals. Mr. Roby finds himself driving the bass, the fuzz bass, the acoustic and baritone guitar, the loops, the percussion, even the piano -- and he tops it off with a fine, if muted, vocal performance.
Any fan of Richard Thompson will feel right at home with Mercury's Blues. One of my favorite albums has been Shoot Out the Lights by Richard and Linda Thompson. There has always been something...simple...that I liked about Shoot Out the Lights. The same is true here. The music is clean and sparse, the rhythms are comfortable and straightforward. I hesitate to call the album a blues album, it's closer to a light mixture of Robert Cray and Richard Thompson. A bluesy folk, if you will, less gloomy than Mr. Thompson's Shoot Out the Lights and just as clean as Robert Cray's Strong Persuader.
Most of the album is lighthearted and uncomplicated. Take, for instance, the slow clapping and acoustic of "In a Dress," a song on which Mr. Roby croons "If I liked you in a dress / But you weren't the dress up kind / If I said that your looked fine / Would you put one on some time / If I liked you in a dress." There's at once nothing derivative about the song, and there's also nothing new, just a quaint ditty that's light and fun. The same is true of the entire album.
Kenny Roby will, with any kind of luck, find his own musical niche and the requisite niche following. For his efforts on Mercury's Blues he certainly deserves it.
The only complaint I have about the album is that it's far too short. At just over 30 minutes the album is only a quick taste of what Mr. Roby has to offer, and then you're starting the disc over again. Oh well, maybe next time we'll get at least another 15 minutes -- the music that constitutes the 30 minutes is fine listening, there just should have been more.