ROBERT JAMES SELBY –
SCRAP BOOK BALLADS VOL.1
2012 –Self Released
Reviewed by Paul Hinkley Smith
The debut album from Yorkshire born, London based Selby is homage to a variety of influences that nonetheless portrays a unique narrative voice. From the information on his website he is trying to plant himself firmly within the wandering troubadour tradition. The notes on the inside of the sleeve instructs the listener thus, “Please play loud and whilst intoxicated, Lots of love Robert James Selby”. That immediately called to mind The Stones’ Let It Bleed which has “THIS RECORD SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD” (Their capitals not mine) on the inner sleeve. But whilst the Stones were undeniably
influenced by the sounds of America Selby’s influences seem much closer to this side of the pond for the most part. I got echoes of The Smiths at Johnny Marr’s most jangly at times and it was interesting to note that he has supported The Libertines and Dirty Pretty Things. That might place this artist outside the sphere of what most of our readers might listen to. Carl Barat’s sister Lucie sings backing vocals on 2 tracks although you have to check the website for credits. There is a nod to Americana throughout though - particularly the first track Hard Love which immediately made me think of Jessie Malin for whom the moniker “Troubadour “ would perhaps also be appropriate. (Strangely there is more than a passing physical resemblance too.) The slide guitar on the last track On The Road (Too Long) gives more than a flavour also. The several references to poetry and poets cannot help but remind one of the supreme poet and troubadour Bob Dylan.
As someone who studied literature extensively (albeit getting on for nearly half my life ago) I found the numerous poetic references intriguing although I was struggling and scrambling round my bookshelves and the web to clarify exactly which vague bells they were ringing. The second track Cats
of Père Lachaise name checks the Paris cemetery where numerous notable French artists, authors, musicians, politicians and philosophers were laid to rest as was a certain Jim Morrison. The Ballad of Thomas Chatterton references an 18th century poet who killed himself at the age of 17. Aeolian Harp shares its title with a poem by Coleridge and title Verse of Baudelaire speaks for itself. This track in particular also seems Dylan-influenced both musically and thematically - although the harmonica is too proficient. I wondered if these were nothing more than pretentious but once I satisfied my curiosity by checking all the references then the songs stood up by themselves and those references are not the be all and end all of this album. Song to Sohoconjures an image of London that seems to be in the narrative tradition of The Kinks.
All in all, this album does everything a debut should. It introduces the themes, style and muse of this interesting artist. Also, it leaves this listener at least wondering what will come in the future.