Band members Related acts
- Chris Robison -- vocals, guitar, bass, drums,
- Elephant's Memory
Rating: 3 stars ***
Title: Chris Robison and His Many Hand Band
Company: Gypsy Frog
Country/State: New York
Grade (cover/record): VG / VG
Comments: name written in pen on cover "Hal Wilson"
Catalog ID: 6047
In the interests of full disclosure, I have a passing acquaintance with Chris Robison. It comes courtesy of some material I'd put out on the web on the Velvert Turner Group - Robison was a member of that band and was kind enough to write me with some information on the late Velvert Turner. The funny thing about our series of email correspondences was that Robinson never once made mention of his own extensive performance and recording career. As far as I can tell such modesty is extremely rare in the music business.
It seems pretty quaint in this day and age, but I'm old enough to recognize that being open about your sexual orientation was a fairly provocative and dangerous thing for a gay man to do in the early 1970s. To be as open about it as singer/songwriter Chris Robison was on 1973's "Chris Robinson and His Many Hand Band" took some real courage and conviction.
Robison's musical background is extensive and rather than regurgitate it here, anyone interested should simply visit his website (link shown below) where he goes through the history with a rare degree of candor for his ups and downs. To give you a taste of his multi-faceted career, Robison was a late-inning member of the band Steam, played with Elephants Memory, recorded an album with Velvert Turner, toured with The New York Dolls, recorded a sought after power pop album with the band Stumblebunny (love the name), and recorded a number of highly acclaimed children's albums.
Through those connection he apparently made some big name industry friends and admirers. Those connections seem to have helped him attract the attention of RCA Victor which offered him a contract, but ultimately decided against releasing the resulting material. That left Robison to go the independent route, forming his own Gypsy Frog label which released his 1973 solo debut "Chris Robinson and His Many Hand Band". Musically the album was a true one man show featuring 13 Robinson originals. Robison handled virtually all of the instrumentation, produced, and helped mix the set. For a skinny, young white guy Robison had a surprisingly impressive and versatile voice and as a multi-instrumentalist he was more than adequate on everything from bass to drums. So what did the overall results sound like? The few reviews I've seen have all focused on Robison's sexual orientation which was made quite obvious by tracks like 'I've Got a Secret', 'Lookin' for a Boy Tonight' and 'Mocha Almond Boy' but none of those reviews had a great deal about the performances. Robison's lifestyle obviously impacted his music which offered up an intriguing mixture of musical styles and lyrics that were intriguing and disturbing at the same time ... I suspect Jim Carrol, Tom Waits and others would have approved of this collection showcasing the lives of life's downtrodden and also-rans.
- Opening up with some pretty piano (and less endearing whistling), it took awhile for 'I've Got a Secret' to get going. Musically the song was quite melodic and the harmony vocals were great, but to my ears the lyric was a touch overly-sensitive. Okay, okay it wasn't like I was expecting to hear Hendrix's 'Freedom' (yes that was an in-joke - read my comments on The Velvert Turner Group album). rating: ** stars
- 'Down In New York' mixed a lighthearted Caribbean melody with a disturbing lyric about young runaways tricking and drugging their lives away. Robison's deep and rugged speak-sing vocal was the big surprise here - you'd never have expected that voice from a skinny little white guy ... rating: *** stars
- Sporting one of the album's poppier melodies, 'Doctor Doctor' was apparently a song about being subjected to psychotherapy and electroshock therapy to 'cure' someone's sexual orientation. Definitely strange and also disturbing - even more so given the catchy melody. rating: **** stars
- One of the album's prettiest ballads, 'Italian Boy' was sappy enough to have been an early Billy Joel composition - you had to hear the refrain where he sang the main character's last name ... The funny thing here is the fact the song was insidiously catchy. Geez, I'm a bigger sap than I suspected. rating: *** stars
- Another keyboard propelled ballad, 'Wait for Me' lacked the finesse shown on some of the earlier performances. Robison's vocals seemed somewhat shaky (particularly when he shifted into a falsetto), and the song never seemed to kick into gear making it sound like an unfinished demo. rating: ** stars
- Clearly intended to be one of the album's more accessible performances, 'Rainbow Ride' actually came off as sickly sweet and just short of cloying. I'm all for a positive and uplifting stance on life, but this one was simply a little too much. The only saving grace here was the fact the song faded out early. rating: * star
- I guess it was meant to be cute, but the pseudo country-bumpkin sound on 'Lookin' for a Boy Tonight' (yeah, this wasn't one of his most subtle lyrics), didn't do a great deal for me. rating: * star
- Opening up with a bubblegum melody, 'So Fine' was marred by some atypically out of tune vocals and some clumsy keyboards. Not sure what happened on this one ... rating: ** stars
- 'Hyway Song' found Robison in acoustic singer/songwriter mode. Once again, the hoedown flavor didn't do much for me. rating: ** stars
- Hum, how to describe 'Mocha Almond Boy'? A queer version of 'Martha My Dear'? One of the album's prettier compositions. rating: *** stars
- 'Throwing My Life Away' was another oddity given it blended a poppy melody with a dark, autobiographical (?) lyric. Imagine Emmit Rhodes in a suicidal moment. rating: ** stars
- Perhaps because it marked a return to a more electric rock orientation, to my ears 'Spare Change' stood as one of the standout performances. A very slinky Stones-ish number with some excellent guitar, this one had considerable radio potential. rating: **** stars
- Another stark ballad (just Robison and acoustic guitar), 'Don't Be Ashamed To Be a Good Man' was surprisingly enjoyable. rating: **** stars
Again, kudos to Robison for his personal courage and the album certainly had a couple of impressive outings, but the set would have benefited from a but of judicious editing.
Robison and His Many Hand Band" track listing:
1.) I've Got a Secret (Chris Robison)
2.) Down In New York (Chris Robison - Tony Grigley)
3.) Doctor Doctor (Chris Robison)
4.) Italian Boy (Chris Robison)
5.) Wait for Me (Chris Robison)
6.) Rainbow Ride (Chris Robison - Sasha McCaffrey)
2.) So Fine (Chris Robison - Sasha McCaffrey)
3.) Hyway Song (Chris Robison)
4.) Mocha Almond Boy (Chris Robison)
5.) Throwing My Life Away (Chris Robison)
6.) Spare Change (Chris Robison)
7.) Don't Be Ashamed To Be a Good Man (Chris Robison - Tony Grigley)
I've never heard it, but Robison also recorded a 1974 sophomore set - "Manchild" (Gypsy Frog), as well as forming the power pop outfit Stumblebunny (1979's "While You Were Out" Mercury catalog number 9198 135).
He also has a nice website cover past, current, and future accomplishments at:
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