Super Robertson is his own man, and he does what he does with no concern about what’s cool and what might "rock." We should all be so unencumbered by cultural baggage. If this makes him an outsider, never mind; he’s got larger concerns. He’s got kids to raise, a Supper Show to organize every week, a garden to tend, bee survival to worry about, and songs to write.
Dreams have become a theme in his work as 21 Tandem Repeats. On “Robertson’s Dream Orchard” (from No Junk Mail Please) he sang about a fantasy of small-town life amongst the trees and bees. He expresses the same urge to escape the city on “Bold Point Road,” where he once “went to learn about the farming life” on Quadra Island. “One Little Dream” is about having the spirit required to help that dream survive in the face of challenges to our creativity and growth—“You gotta be bad to be good.” As ever, Super’s got ideas and opinions packaged up in these dreams-turned-songs.
With his last album, I gave him some stick over what I thought were less-than-definitive versions of songs that I’d been enjoying live. Timid arrangements diminished the material, I thought. This time, he’s assembled a crack team that has injected a lot of style and personality into the album. Alvaro Rojas (Cortez the Killer, Big Buck, etc.) and Willingdon Black handle electric guitars, adding twang and raunch when required; Johnny Wildkat (Mongoose) plays bass; Shawn Killaly—an irrepressible showman and incredible musician—is on drums, cracking the whip and giving the songs a boot up the arse. The MVP trophy, though, might have to go to C.S. Rippin for his piano playing, always rollicking away in the background, providing bounce and some humour—do I hear “Sweet Home Alabama” licks in “The Last Honey and Toast”? Jesse Gander’s mix buffs it till it sparkles. It’s a great leap beyond 21 TR’s handmade origins.
Quirks and characters populate 21 TR’s folk music. A song about a photographer friend (“Moustache Man” ) leads to a tune musing on Robertson's own neighbhourhood notoriety (“Famous Person”), followed by a slice of road-trip life from Robertson’s Knocking Dog days (“I was thinking that this ought to be in a movie” he thinks, as they drive through “Saskatchewan”). A minor gardening accident inspires “Rage Hero Episode #37,” a rambling narrative that Genny Trigo sings with the rage-negating chipperness of a children’s entertainer. Best of all, though, is “Nothing is Heard” a protest song that reminds me of Neil Young whipping up a storm with Crazy Horse. This version far eclipses what I’ve heard on stage. Based on this song alone, I’d declare One Little Dream a success, but considering everything else—the fine playing, the production, and other songs like “The Recurring Hurrah” and the title track—it’s clearly the best 21TR effort yet.