Robby Hect and Oliver the Crow

Robby Hecht

A proper artist struggles to influence life’s signal to noise ratio. Under the right kind of concentration, the static grows quiet. The extraneous and the superficial are pared away. And precious human qualities are held still, carefully turned over and inspected for illuminating details. In Robby Hecht’s case, this effort emerges as music that invites and even induces the listener to a similar place of serenity, clarity and patience.

“When I’m writing by myself something can take three years until I get past my own self-editing phase,” says Hecht about his meticulous approach. “Everything I write I’m trying to capture some kind of truth that I haven’t heard anyone say in that way before.”

And that’s what we hear on Hecht’s third album, a self-titled collection of twelve lovely and insightful songs. Those who give it time will be seduced by a quality that fellow songwriter Steve Poltz once compared to “a warm blanket that wraps itself around you.” And Poltz is but one of many peers in the folk music community who’ve testified to the magnitude of Hecht’s talents. Catie Curtis, Anais Mitchell, Julie Lee and others have gushed about the “natural beauty” of Hecht’s tone, the “honey in his voice” and his “authentic gifts” as a lyricist. Prizes from songwriting contests at Kerrville and Telluride have further confirmed Hecht’s stature as a musician’s musician. Now, with several circuits of the nation under his belt and a widening base of support in the songwriter world, Hecht is worthy of wider recognition by fans of observant, immersive music.

Raised by Midwestern Jewish parents in the conservative South, he became accustomed to - but never comfortable with - frequent questions about which (Christian) church he attended. His tastes in music in his teens ran the gamut from Def Leppard to The Grateful Dead. More songwriter-centric material took root a little later, and at age 18 he made a “strangely confident and final” decision to commit to music as his calling and career. At college in Madison, Wisconsin his class notebooks became scratch pads as he poured out his first wave of ideas. As he approached performing though, there were doubts. As fascinated as he was by a life in music, he couldn’t shake the feeling of being a stranger and an outsider – even to himself.

It was not until the mid 2000s - after travels in Europe, a time in San Francisco where he formed the duo AllDay Radio, a move back to his hometown of Knoxville and a final shift to Nashville – that he made the most significant discovery of his life as a person and an artist. Thanks to insights from the woman who was on her way to becoming his wife, he learned he’d been suffering for years from bipolar disorder. Besides a large measure of personal contentment, dealing with that head on had truly practical implications for an aspiring performer.

“My condition made it hard to really commit to anything,” Hecht says. “It made it hard to want to record a record. It made it hard to tour or to co-write with somebody. Because at some subconscious level, I didn’t know what version of myself I was going to be when I showed up.”

Robby’s newfound consistency and stability were rewarded with a rush of opportunities and victories. He placed second at the prestigious Telluride Troubadour Contest, a contest he would later win. He took a title at Kerrville New Folk Competition, a national nerve-center of contemporary songwriting. These and other contests were, Hecht says, “an entry point to the world of performing. They put me in front of people on a bigger stage than I had been able to book by myself. And they made me feel like I could perform in front of a lot of people and it would be okay.”

It was more than okay. Hecht’s debut album Late Last Night, made with notable Nashville friends and colleagues such as singers Mindy Smith and Jill Andrews plus producer Lex Price, was flagged by numerous critics and colleagues as a top release in its genre. Maverick magazine called it “gorgeous” and one blogger flagged it as one of his five favorite discs of all time. The album’s lovelorn tone gave way to a brighter mood on its follow-up, Last Of The Long Days in 2011, which was tapped by CMT as a “mellow and beautiful effort.” The buzz around Hecht was substantial, but the world, as we established earlier, is a noisy place and the path to the top in contemporary folk music is long and steep.

Now comes a third album, self-titled as if to announce a true arrival. Again Hecht turned to Nashville’s Lex Price, a low-key sonic master who’s worked with with k.d. lang, Mindy Smith and others, as producer. The honestly recorded, elegantly mixed record is well positioned to stir the hearts that have been stirred before and more besides.

Some songs here feel chiefly the product of craft, while others the product of heart. Among the former is the allegorical song of impossible love called “The Sea & The Shore,” a co-write with Nashville writer Amy Speace. Working under self-imposed rules about symbolism and rhetoric to maintain a consistent voice, they worked over several sessions and many weeks to compose this finely honed masterpiece. Another craft song is “Soon I Was Sleeping” which has the shape and cunning of Hank Thompson or Harlan Howard and the melancholy honesty of Townes Van Zandt. Steel guitar comes out from the background here to give the record a country ease and sway.

The heart songs include “Feeling It Now,” a deceptively simple profile of that evanescent mood when you’re heading out for a night among friends and all is clicking. It’s a celebration of life and more personally a retrospective of the manic experience. And then there’s “Cars And Bars,” a bittersweet postcard from an encounter that promised romance but which became a mere one-off memory.

There are many moments like that on Robby Hecht – moments that provoke recognition and memories of our own. It’s not a debut album per se, and yet for many, it will introduce an important artist who’s hit his stride and learned a lot about teasing out meaning in a noisy world.

Oliver the Crow

Nashville-based cello/fiddler duo Oliver the Crow are a union built for the airy plains of the South. Their vast sound, which has been called “inspired” by NPR, evokes the wide open spaces surrounding Music City, but grounds itself in the minimal, stripped down instrumentation of cellist Kaitlyn Raitz and fiddler Ben Plotnick.

Each of the ten original songs on their first full-length offering unlocks a different musical world. Oliver the Crow navigates effortlessly between the gravitas of chamber composition, the longing of folk music, and the near dreamlike quality of atmospheric sound art.

Kaitlyn and Ben’s chameleon-like ability to skip between genres stems from their roots as classically-trained performers (Kaitlyn has a masters degree in classical cello from McGill University and Ben has performed as a soloist with the Calgary Philharmonic) but also from their love of everything from Hank Williams to Prince. Raitz was a founding member of folk duo Bride & Groom, tours with The Bombadils and has performed everywhere from Carnegie Hall to the Station Inn. Ben is a primary member of the JUNO award-winning folk string quartet, The Fretless, and has contributed to hundreds of recordings as one of North America’s elite fiddle players.

Their self-titled debut album was crafted in a solar-powered cabin in the middle of nowhere Vermont, over the course of just three and a half days. Kaitlyn and Ben played by natural sunlight during the day, and candlelight in the chilly evenings. They checked on the power level in between takes, made their meals next to the mixing board, and slept near their gear and instruments.

Experimental electronic duo Speaker Face, known for combining acoustic instruments and natural sounds with synthesizers to create wild sonic landscapes, produced the record. Speaker Face loved the challenge of evoking drums and guitar while staying faithful to the duo’s instrumentation. “The only sounds on this record are of cello, fiddle, and voice, even though it’s hard to believe at times. We triple checked, in fact. It’s legit.”

The result is exquisite. One could get lost listening to the sounds in the shadows of “Bury Me Beneath The Willow Tree”, or following Raitz’ liquid mirror vocals as they echo and bounce off into the distance. But then the hook hits hard, a cello groove demands your immediate attention, and your focus is brought back to the present. The opening track “Sailing with the Tide” is sonically huge, anthemic, and seems to span space and time. “Glass” has Raitz’ vocals sounding silver and haunting, while “Sam River,” the only instrumental track on the record, shows off Oliver the Crow’s chops as brilliant composers and sonic manipulators.

One thing is certain: Oliver the Crow cannot be defined by genre, and yet is timeless, indelible. Kaitlyn and Ben have mastered the art of anchoring a folk song in epic pop sensibility, and it’s exhilarating to hear them smash all the rules.



GA Seated || PLEASE NOTE: There is a TWO DRINK MINIMUM in the room.

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