Release Date: Nov 8, 2011
Record label: Thrill Jockey
Genre(s): Folk, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
With the explosion of Rapidshare links and free editing/DJ software in the past few years, you’d be forgiven for thinking that all new records were going to end up sounding like someone put the Sublime Frequencies catalog through the wash—just a mess of overloaded influences and disparate sounds. A relief then that Luke Roberts’s debut can dig up a well of such intimate, homegrown sounds and songs. His weary, slightly broken voice is somewhere between Townes Van Zandt and Kurt Vile—young and wise, but with an even-older worldview and simplicity.
Big Bells and Dime Songs, Luke Roberts' debut LP, was released by Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace in the spring of 2010; after a limited run, it received a relatively grander rollout this fall via Thrill Jockey. While the record wasn't reissued, exactly, Big Bells' unveiling was gradual-- which feels like a particularly appropriate beginning for Roberts, a deliberate and unhurried folk singer from Nashville. On first listen, Big Bells and Dime Songs can seem slight-- Roberts' guitar and vocals aren't augmented by much, save the occasional snare, some bass, or a snippet of electric organ or piano-- but their sparseness only amplifies the record's pervasive, echoing sadness.
Despite peddling a backstory to rival the complete memoirs of St Francis of Assisi, the debut LP from East Nashville-born Luke Roberts - reissued here, a year on from its original release, by Chicago’s inimitable Thrill Jockey label - is a distinctly unremarkable thing. Necessarily slight, it spreads itself thin over nine desert-questing hobo-songs and its twiggy branches bear nary a chorus nor remarkably fruitful melody. “Every time I try to add a second part in one of them I think, ’man, that’s cheesy’”, he divulged to the record’s producer, Harvey Milk drumming man Kyle Spence.
Nashville’s Luke Roberts explains the songs on his debut album, Big Bells and Dime Songs, like so: “They were poems that I didn’t feel comfortable not reciting before I go.” That attitude gives you a good sense of Roberts’ classic ethos: a folk musician in the most romantic sense, a writer who submits his verses to an acoustic guitar rather than an obscure literary journal. In other words, Roberts follows in a long (long, long) tradition of Country & Western-infused fingerpickers, laying his plaintive voice and road-borne laments to tape out of a need for confessional self-expression. If that’s your flavor, Big Bells and Dime Songs should deliver.
The true life experience is a telling ritual to maintain. For many, recounting the obstacles overcome in a passing day seems like opening your wounds for all to pick at. Others rejoice in the ability of being able to share personal anecdotes in hopes of self-expression and approval. The experience of life is an always challenging one – filled with an abundant amount of typical ‘ups and downs’ – and for folk singer/songwriter Luke Roberts, life is definitely a kindred affair.