Son Roberts – Three’s A Charm
10 songs, 39 minutes
Playing the Blues for many artists is a lifelong journey of discovery and development very often in relative obscurity. Regional masters abound all over the globe unable to sustain themselves through their art, but with no less talent or artistic perspective then those lucky enough to climb higher on the professional food chain. Toronto’s Son Roberts seems to be one of these vital artists. His third independently released album Three’s A Charm is a charismatic collection of music with a unique perspective and voice. In the promotional material it is noted how Son “doesn’t make much of a living from the Blues, he seeks to make a contribution by creating music inspired by this life and this time.” This is the philosophy of a Blues lifer who has to create the music in spite of financial realities.
Son Roberts is a singer with a warbled delivery and a harmonica blower of muscular James Cotten skill. Roberts wrote or co-wrote all the songs on Three’s A Charm making the music personal and unique. There is a James Brown funk inspired through-line to Roberts’ Blues Rock. Son sings with a bravado and affect that reminds one of Rick Estrin’s slightly nasally delivery. Except where the Nightcats lay down the old school LA Swing, Robert’s co-conspirators keep the booty shaking with hard hitting syncopated funk beats, jagged guitar cuts and layers of background vocals and horns. The musicians are:
Son Roberts – vocals & harmonica; Brett MacMillan – producer, engineer and guitar; Gary Kendal, Omar Tunnoch, Charles Collymore, Tim Burns & Jerome Tucker – bass; Ralph MacDonald – guitar and mandolin; Sergio Faluotico – drums and percussion; Sarah Thawer, Tim Browne & Duncan McBain – drums; Alan Zimaitis & Jesse Whiteley – keys; Ed Roth – accordion; Kate Roberts, Gail Roberts, Dave Sparrow, Dave Senior Jr. & Dave Boire – background vocals; Scott Bannister, Zach Forbes & Donny Hopper – horns
“Down on Vaughn Road ” is a great example of Son Roberts’ Blues aesthetic. A choppy thumping disembodied drum beat buttresses solo harp blasting. A grimy rusty slide guitar cuts in ushering through the bass and more percussion. Roberts sings off the beat about the denizens of the Road and the experiences one can have, while a chorus of background singers (mostly his daughters) hammer home the stomping refrain.
The tarnished electro-trudge of “Vaughn Road” is tempered by the Maceo Parker inspired sophisti-Funk of “Not ‘Nuff Night.” With full stop drum fills and dancing rhythm guitar, “Night” has some of the best come-on lines and free floating scripted jive talking on the record (“You can squeeze my lemon, I want to taste your lime”). This type of medium tempo laid back funk is balanced by the urgent manic Sex Machine riot of “Cold Black Chair.” Floating long harp lines over the hard Funk-Rock, Roberts details a fever dream of reflection and hard times.
Three’s a Charm has some beautiful and affecting moments. The solo harp and voice opener “Morningstar” is a lament for the disappearance of a coworker’s daughter. The acoustic Tex-Mex “Tied Up In A Song” drips with accordion telling the story of generational music-making embodied in a fiddle. As cathartic as these songs are is how silly and absurdist “Keep That Joy Alive” is. This classic gospel performance about the joyous healing properties of ganga would make any Rastafari bob their head “yes.”
Son Roberts’ Three’s A Charm is irreverent fun loving music perfectly captured by the cover photo of kids giving the finger to the viewer. There is a facile simultaneously laid back and urgent vibe to the music. Son sings with conviction and confidence and fills the space with a professional presence. This record is a great example of how talented the regional unsung heroes of the Blues can be.