Kevin and Anita Robinson, a husband-and-wife musical duo, apparently decided that one full-time band didn’t qualify as a fulfilling day job.
So they went and formed another full-time band. (Isn’t that nice? A young couple with a hobby!)
The Portland, OR pair is best known as Viva Voce, a criminally underrated swirl of psychedelia, folk and incendiary guitar fury. The Robinsons have somehow managed to squeeze their Blue Giant side project in and amongst the exhausting touring and recording schedule they keep with Viva Voce, and the results are refreshing. Self-titled debut album Blue Giant is the sound of rejuvenation, of a band reincarnated as another band, free from restraint – perhaps even relieved to escape the limitations of performing and recording as a duo.
For this new incarnation as Blue Giant, the Robinsons have beefed up the lineup but largely stripped down the sound. In Viva Voce, Kevin is worn thin scrambling between his duties as percussionist, bassist, rhythm guitarist and vocalist. The supporting players in Blue Giant – percussionist Evan Railton, bassist Seth Lorinczi and multi-instrumentalist Chris Funk – allow Kevin to assume his natural role as frontman. Although, truth be told, the lovely and gifted Anita effortlessly commands the proceedings with delicious contributions on guitar and her otherworldly croon.
Blue Giant feels a bit like Viva Voce unplugged; a little gentler, perhaps, but by no means soft. “Clean the Clock” is a microcosmic opener to the record, glowing with the warmth of a front porch hootenanny until Railton stutters into the bombastic chorus. A fierce descending progression on acoustic guitar introduces the bridge, which Anita colors with her elegant slide work.
From there, Blue Giant unfolds with a satisfying balance of thick grooves and bruised frankness. Concise arrangements are rooted in wholesome acoustic strum. The banjo-led “Blue Sunshine” and “Run Rabbit Run” stomp with gleeful abandon. At the other end of the spectrum, “Target Heart” centers on Kevin’s frayed vocal and bitter lyric – “You keep shooting at my target heart / I keep moving but you’re just too smart” – accompanied by wistful saloon piano and a mournful Anita solo that pours from the speakers like an autumn Portland rain.
But the album’s defining moment arrives courtesy of “The Game,” a defiant barn-burner masterfully hidden between ballads on the latter half. The lyrics are a rallying cry for the Robinsons themselves – or perhaps a fitting kiss goodbye to the constraints of Viva Voce and the label of perpetual underdog: “So we’ve been living, but we are hardly alive / We’ve been there for years and we have never arrived / We’ve paid all our dues, but we’re still left by the side / We’re done with this lonely life!”
Bottom line: We needn’t care what the Robinsons call themselves, just as long as they keep making records.