One of my favorite albums from last year finally got released a few weeks ago. Back in the fall of 2011 the producer of this album, Ole Reinert Berg-Olsen, aka ORBO from ORBO & The Longshots, proudly played me a rough mix of Robert Smith-Halds new album – and it’s been in my regular rotation ever since. The album is both an instant ear-grabber AND a grower.
Who’s this Robert Smith-Hald then? I actually considered not writing about him on 9B, as he originally is American and I’m scared you’ll steal him back from us after hearing this.
Robert Smith-Hald grew up in a religious american sect, which his parents broke out of when he was a teenager. They moved to Norway when he was 15 years old, and he’s been here ever since. Except for a year when he went back to the US to work for his old sect, to see with a grown up’s eyes what they had lived through. He met his wife there, who also went there to work for a year, and their love created a lot of fuss when it got known.(consider this instead: their relationship was not accepted and attacked by concerned sect members who wanted to keep Robert in the sect. Thank God they didn’t succeed.)
He first learned about music when he as a young boy found a record player and a bunch of singles when exploring the woods on the sect perimeter with his friends.. After taking it back to their barn they got it up and running and the first single was Elvis Presley singing Jailhouse Rock. They were caught by the babysitter – who promptly smashed the record player and the singles. Obviously it just made him even more determined to make music himself.
His debut album Innocence Said was well recieved in Norway, with his singer/songwriter style and americana sound coupled with strong lyrics.
And on his follow up, named Thou Mayest (yes, the Steinbeck-connection is valid), he brought his stringmaster Vegard Henanger with him to the US, his first trip back in 20 years, and to Nashville – where friend and producer ORBO introduced him to Erick Jaskowiak – a several times over grammy nominated engineer/producer. Jaskowiak has been instrumental on several of ORBO’s albums over the years.
Jaskowiak and ORBO brought in a fantastic bunch of session musicians. People like Fats Kaplin, legendary Reese Wynans and John Prine’s drummer Paul Griffith did their part to lift this album above and beyond.
The title track “Thou Mayest” is the album’ indisputable highlight, where Wynans Hammond slowly brings the song to it’s climax behind Smith-Halds strong voice.
The single, and video, “Tumblin’ Into You” is the story about that year when he went back and also met his wife. The song could slip right on to a Traveling Wilburys album.
He’s even got a voice that sometimes sounds like a cross between Dylan and Tom Petty, and then it’s almost got a Johnny Cash mixed with Paul Simon feel to it. It almost sounds to me as if he can conjure up different personas to go with the lyrics, complete with matching voice.
I also need to mention the bluesy rock song “Dead Dogs” and the fantastic ballad “Wait For Me”. And of course the duet “When You’re Gone”, where Lisa Torres and Robert interchange lines in the ultimate break-up song.
I strongly recommend getting this album, and I’m even invoking my first ever “Essential Listening” on this…