Bobby Long - A Winter Tale

It's no secret I love Bobby Long.  My family might be tired of hearing about it, I don't know.  But talking to them isn't enough, I had to write about it too....

Article first published as Music Review: Bobby Long - A Winter Tale on Blogcritics.

It’s a remarkable thing to be able to watch an artist grow and develop from the very beginning of their career. I first discovered Bobby Long and his music while browsing videos on YouTube nearly two years ago. He was just beginning to tour across the U.S., playing at small bars and venues, trying to get his name out there, introducing the world to his brand of stories and blues. He’s been able to build a legion of steadfast and loyal fans here in the U.S. and abroad, though he’s still relatively unknown. 2011 promises to change all of that. Now, Bobby Long is preparing to embark on another tour with his new band, this time to promote his debut album, A Winter Tale.

THE ARTIST:
Bobby Long is a 24-year-old British singer/songwriter. He grew up in a small town in Wiltshire, in southwest England, and moved to London to study Music in Film at London Metropolitan University. Music was always a big part of his life, from his father’s guitar strumming and love of American folk music, to his grandfather’s love of old jazz and blues. Despite only playing guitar for a few short years, Bobby quickly built a library of music—writing songs—mastering his instrument (guitar), and began frequenting the open-mic circuit in London. He met other like-minded musicians with whom he’d sometimes perform and write songs. One of those songs found its way onto the soundtrack for the movie Twilight, exposing Bobby’s music to a broader audience. Soon, he developed a strong following and was able to take his brilliance on the road to continental Europe and all across America.Bobby Long at the Newport Music Hall, Columbus, OH Oct 19, 2010, by Chantal Stone

Though much of his success can appear to be luck or circumstance, it’s due largely to the fact that this artist is smart and deliberate and values the integrity of his music over commercial success. This old-school approach made the partnership with legendary producer, Liam Watson, the perfect choice for his debut album, A Winter Tale, which was recorded both live and analog. And just last year, he signed with ATO Records, the musician-centric label founded by Dave Matthews.

THE MUSIC:
His style can be considered folk, but with a sort of bluesy, country influence. He has described his own music as “a crash in the woods when its [sic] raining.” While that description is clever, I’d go with soulful and searching, edgy yet composed. His voice is sin and silk, honey and grit. His guitar playing is intricate and complex, an artful mix of finger-picking melodies and melancholy chords. His lyrics defy his youth, like poetry reminiscent of an early 20th century writer. Think Dylan Thomas or T.S. Eliot. He weaves stories about love and death and abandonment; he evokes tales of soldiers brutalized in battle, working-class widows struggling to keep their families together, and bored youth trying to find their place.

Or maybe not. But it doesn’t matter. Like all good poetry, Bobby Long’s lyrics are meant to be interpretive. He doesn’t sing down to his listener, he invites the listener to join in on the experience. So a song about a woman killing her abusive husband could take on a completely different meaning for someone else. He gives us this gift and allows us to hear our own truth. For this, he is a master story teller. There is no passive listening here.

On stage is where the true magic happens. I’ve been lucky to see Bobby Long perform live both on his own, crooning softly in a bar filled with 30 people or less, and also backed by a full band, loud and raucous, all power and energy, singing to a sold-out venue. His performances pull you in. When he sings, it’s apparent he feels the words, the music. It’s more than just a show. It’s visceral, it’s organic—it’s extraordinary.

THE ALBUM:
A Winter Tale is Bobby’s first official record released by ATO Records, and will hit stores and be available for download on February 1st. He previously recorded the album Dirty Pond Songs in his bedroom and sold it at his live shows. DPS is more of a collection of his music to date but it represents the best of Bobby…acoustic, stripped, pure and simple. A Winter Tale takes that essential Bobby Long and gives it polish. While still holding on to the purity that sets Bobby apart from his contemporaries, it’s refined and mature. A Winter Tale is a collection of songs that perfectly illustrates this young man’s journey of and passion for American music, while preserving his very English roots.

Veteran Bobby Long fans will enjoy hearing their favorite songs re-recorded with a finer touch, as the familiar melodies are backed by A-list musicians and singers such as Nona Hendryx, Lay Low, and B. J. Cole. Bobby’s new listeners will enjoy this masterful anthology of songs, sometimes soft, other times loud, but at all times perfect.

No matter your preferred genre, there’s something on this record for everyone: the rockish anthemic title track, the haunting and evocative Bounty of Mary Jane, the acoustic lullaby A Stranger Song, and the down-home bluesy Penance Fire Blues and Dead and Done, along with the old-time country vibe of Being a Mockingbird.

Bobby Long is a name to remember in 2011 and he’s already starting the year off with a bang. Having just performed at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, UT, he begins his world tour on January 28th with performances spanning North America, then moving on to Australia. European dates will soon be announced as well. Be sure to also catch his performance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on February 3rd.

Buy A WINTER TALE!