The new release from Nell Robinson & Jim Nunally Band is a stunning collaboration that will carry listeners back to an earlier era in American music, but it’s a vitally alive trip free from nostalgia and outright imitation. Robinson enjoys a much deserved reputation as one of the best voices in country and Americana music while Nunally and his cohorts possess an impressive pedigree derived from playing alongside David Grisman and various other bluegrass luminaries. The twelve song on their album Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home do a good job of balancing pathos with humor, deeply felt melodies and vocals contrasted by much more playful passages, clarity of musical focus, and a sure musical hand. These qualities are scarcely found in any genre today, but the collaboration between The Jim Nunally Band and Nell Robinson spills forth with those qualities.
The title track and album opener is a joyous and playful number. There’s a glowing physicality in both the arrangement and vocal that never panders or risks lasciviousness; the innocence of the song is almost palpable. Robinson’s voice is the guiding vocal force on this album, but she frequently alternates lead vocals with Nunally and their vocals often converge for impressive effect. There’s a much more traditional country sound on “I Hear a Southwind” and opens with its ringing chorus. Robinson’s voice strengthens an already beautiful vocal melody and the song’s instrumental breaks add much to the inherent lyrical beauty. The placid surface of “Tempest” stands in stark contrast to its emotional depths and the songwriting is quite successful thanks to how it picks the right significant details to win audiences over. The folkie vibe of “Tempest” gives way to the pure bluegrass strains of “Hillbilly Boy”. It has a catchy chorus and a bright bounce that never undercuts the strong instrumental qualities of the song. The track “Pardon Me” is a breezy, upbeat number celebrating the endless jostling between hearts with endearing sentiments that never risk cheesiness.
The album takes a distinctly darker turn with “I’m Brilliant”. This track has a deliberate and slightly ominous build, taking its time, and Robinson’s vocal contrasts the brooding musical mood. There’s a hard-won wisdom coming through in the lyrical content and Robinson delivers it with just the right amount of tempered edge. “Sophia” has a dream-like ambiance that owes some debt to traditional music, but stretches its boundaries in inventive ways. Robinson’s voice has an almost classical beauty on this performance. She conjures up a bluesy spell with Nunally and their collaborators on the song “Shackled and Chained” and it’s performances like these that help us understand just how much versatility these performers have at their disposal. “Jump the Mississippi” revisits the playful side of these musicians and songwriters. Robinson’s and Nunally’s vocals come together seamlessly over a sprightly and deceptively simple backing track. Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home is one of the year’s best outings in this musical style and powered by some of the best players working in the genre over the last four decades. If you love roots music like it should be played, you’ll love what Nell Robinson & Jim Nunally Band do.