Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sharon Robinson: A Remarkable Talent

I listened to Sharon Robinson’s first solo recording, Everybody Knows, several times over the past few days. Before I wrote anything about it, I needed time to be able to really hear her voice, alone, without the accompaniment of Leonard Cohen. That was hard, inasmuch as I am such a devotee of Cohen’s work and know both his lyrics and his melodies and how they work so well together. But after hearing Sharon Robinson’s unique voice on Everybody Knows, I realized why so much of Cohen’s work melds lyrics and melodies so remarkably well; his collaborator, co-writer of many songs and producer of some of his best work, Sharon Robinson, left her indelible mark on his music, just as he has left an indelible mark on hers.

Robinson is no newcomer as a singer-songwriter. She has had a very successful career, writing songs that have been performed and recorded by people like Patti LaBelle, Aaron Neville, Diana Ross, Rufus Wainwright, Roberta Flak, and the Pointer Sisters. But she has never before had her own, solo, recording. Finally, her time has come and I am more than a little delighted!

The lyrics and melodies of almost every piece on Everybody Knows conspire to tell a heartfelt, raw, emotional story. The music is a splendid complement to Robinson’s voice, which she commands so completely that it is almost magical.

Three songs on the album (Everybody Knows, Alexandra Leaving, and Summertime) were written collaboratively with Leonard Cohen. My personal favorite of the three on this recording is Alexandra Leaving. In that piece, Robinson’s voice and her deliberate inflections tell a story quite different from the same one on Cohen’s recordings, but it’s a surprisingly appealing presentation, actually better in my view than when the singing is shared with him. As I was exploring information about her recording, I came upon an interesting interview that Sharon gave in Helsinki, Finland while there last year in conjunction with her participation in Leonard Cohen’s world tour (which ends this June). If you have the time, I recommend it: (interview in Helsinki)

What’s completely unexpected, and what demonstrates to me the exceptional talent that Robinson possesses, is that I absolutely fell in love with other songs, songs that Leonard Cohen had nothing to do with, to my knowledge. Invisible Tattoo, Secondhand, Forever in a Kiss, Sustenance and The High Road all speak from the heart and convey a sense of sincerity that is a hallmark of Leonard Cohen’s music—but this is not his music, it’s Sharon’s. And that gets to the heart of this new recording. If I had to express any disappointments, I would have to say Party for the Lonely was the only piece that left me feeling that it was not up to the standards of the rest of the pieces on the recording; I can think of no particular flaw, though, so it's likely simply a matter of personal taste. Beyond that, I wish she had selected Sustenance as her title piece...but, again, it's purely personal.

Robinson uses her voice in an almost magical way, combining intellect, emotion, and raw sensuality. She tells not just a story, she tells the story. She asserts with her music, quite convincingly, that every experience she describes with her voice and her nuanced delivery is her very own experience. Quite apart from her remarkable technical brilliance as a singer and songwriter, which this first solo recording amply demonstrates, Robinson shows with Everybody Knows that she is a poet, as well.

I look forward to many more recordings from her, solo and otherwise. Sharon Robinson's talent and genius must be shared more openly and more often!

1 comment:

bev said...

Excellent review. Thanks for the link to the Helsinki interview... very interesting. I listened to her singing solo on a couple of videos on YouTube - voice is wonderful.