(Self-released, CD, digital download)
Slide guitarist Chris Robertson is best known locally as a respected sideman with bluesy Vermont bands such as Bloozotomy, Blue Fox & the Rockin’ Daddies, Left Eye Jump and, most recently, the Dave Keller Band. But since 2006, he’s helmed his own project, Chris Robertson and the Socket Rockets. Earlier this year, that band released its debut record, The Need for Tweed. Through the album’s nine cuts — seven of them originals — Robertson and his Socket Rockets mine the landscape of electrified American blues, rock and rockabilly. It’s familiar territory, to be sure. And while Robertson rarely tiptoes outside of those genres’ well-worn conventions, his fierce playing and cheeky songwriting lend the record a welcome air of vitality.
As his résumé would suggest, Robertson is an elite player. He’s also quite the gearhead. The album’s back cover states that the CD contains “100% organic ‘Tube Tone.’” In other words, no fuzz boxes or solid-state amps. Inside the jacket, he details the gear used to record each track, from the makes of guitars and amps down to the style of hotrodded pickups. For most listeners, that info is superfluous. But it hints at an attention to detail and desire for authenticity that manifests in Robertson’s music.
From the opening cut, “Galaxy in My Galaxie,” through tunes such as the rambunctious “Barbeque,” “Old Money Honey” and “Turning Mean,” Robertson dutifully evokes a bygone era of American music and greaser culture. It seems almost quaint in a hyperstylized age in which Kanye West is a self-proclaimed genius, Carrie Underwood is supposedly country and Arcade Fire are supposedly indie. There’s a playful quality to Robertson’s music that suggests he doesn’t take himself too seriously, even though his prodigious abilities would justify it if he did.
Robertson surrounds himself with a crack backing band, including drummer Daemmon Hughes, guitarist Ed Burgess and bassist Kenny B. He also leans on some old friends as special guests, such as keyboardist Ira Friedman and harmonica ace Greg Izor. While the Socket Rockets’ collective firepower is impressive, Robertson remains the band’s most potent weapon. Whether in his bluesy growl or fiery slide riffs, his performances are energetic and as polished as gleaming chrome. He might not be breaking any molds, but he’s a worthy keeper of the rock-and-roll flame.
The Need for Tweed by Chris Robertson and the Socket Rockets is available at cdbaby.com. The band plays Moog’s Place in Morrisville on Saturday, December 28.