Robert Chaney
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Robert Chaney

Fort Lauderdale, FL | Established. Jan 01, 2013 | SELF

Fort Lauderdale, FL | SELF
Established on Jan, 2013
Duo Folk Gothic




"Robert Chaney / Barna Howard – Servant Jazz Quarters (14/05/15)"

The bijou Servant Jazz is at capacity for Barna Howard’s first experience of a UK audience. From its stage, Robert Chaney clearly feels at ease as he works into Black Eyed Susan, the opening number from his debut album, Cracked Picture Frames. Folk Radio’s Simon Holland calls it ‘sharp, intelligent, thoughtful and moving’ and Chaney is all this and more in a support slot where more than just his playing is electric. Chaney’s music is dark in origin, wordy and unconstrained by standard structures. Looking like a young Roger McGuinn and sounding like he’s just stepped off the boards in Greenwich Village circa ’66, the underlying tow of dense, reverb-drenched Blues and intense finger-picking shackles us to his performance and doesn’t let go until he’s finished.

The delicate Does Your Love Pay Out In Full unwinds like a spool of 8mm from the Basement Tapes but it would be unfair and unnecessary to load Chaney with the weight of his influences, mainly because although they are relevant, his songs and delivery are sufficiently removed from them to make comparison churlish. The set attains escape velocity on The Ballad of Edward and Lisa and The Cyclist, the latter an epic story where the characters search without success for validation of their actions and suffer the consequences in jail time. The audience were transfixed until the melody died. Corazones Amarillos is another highlight and benefits from a note-perfect duet vocal from Laura Tenschert, who co-wrote the final song, a new track called Broken (Beyond Repair). Servant Jazz takes a collective breath as he finishes his set and talk of the bar is of a classy performer whose time may be about to come.

Eureka, Missouri born Barna Howard is a self-effacing young American whose second album, Quite A Feelin’ was released on May 18. Howard’s light-touch old-time Country deals in finger-picked and strum combinations of stories that bounce along on jaunty melodies and a voice that sounds twenty years older than his face would have you believe. It’s a long-way-home-and-tumbleweed baritone that recalls Kristofferson and Van Zandt. Quite A Feelin’, right down to the album artwork, wouldn’t look, or sound, out of place in a box set from either of them.

Tonight, Servant Jazz gets Quite A Feelin’ in full, plus a couple of tracks from his eponymous debut, Promise I Won’t Laugh and Turns Around The Bottle. An understandable touch of nerves shows in his chatter between songs. It’s fair to say he’s grateful for the opportunity to play and, as many Americans do, he remarks on the attentive (read: quiet) audience during the songs. Such an approach from the crowd no doubt focuses the artists mind but Howard needn’t fear, as his playing and delivery is as loose-limbed and comfortable as if he were practising in his living room.

Indiana Rose is a sweet opener, images of sitting out on the porch and fields of corn as American as a good sour mash. Bitter Side Of Blue’s lyric echoes the rolling Country of Johnny Cash and Notches On A Frame is a wry look at the passing of time. The title track has a lovely melody and the combination with his voice is a beguiling one, a James Taylor confessional light on pain and introspection. The album credentials are further embellished by three songs towards the end of the set. Rooster Still Crows – ‘..the family who owned it moved on but it kept right on crowing’ is another one from the box of memories, an uncomplicated strummer that succeeds in transporting you to a different time and place for a few minutes. Pull Us Back Or Wind Us Up, as well as having a great title, is as close as Howard gets to bro-Country themes, albeit with more class in its opening bars than the entire bro-genre, all laid-back nights with a bottle and his friends, revelling in the beauty of simple needs and simple pleasures. Last track on the album and penultimate tune tonight is the beautiful Lend Me A Moment, a request to put the metaphorical brakes on. Which is a shame, as both songwriters could have played all night and it would not have been enough. - Folk Radio UK

"Classic Rock Magazine - October 2015"

If this album was a film - and that's how Robert Chaney intended it to feel - it'd hook you from the first frame. Over bleary-eyed bottleneck and a bust-microphone vocal, Black-Eyed Susan finds the Florida-born songwriter in character as a wife-beater fielding a dawn visit from the cops ('And then they turned to her, and she spoke not a word...').

Mood established, the vignettes keep coming, with The Cyclist's eerie folk-blues following a couple haunted by a hit-and-run, and The Ballad of Edward and Lisa recounting a jet-black murder ballad via a defendant's courtroom testimony.

Touched by Townes Van Zandt, Hank Williams, and Dylan at his darkest, Chaney is probably everything that a shit-for-brains modern A&R man isn't looking for: he's subtle, slow-burning, patently obsessed with lyrics and backed by such sparse instrumentation that some songs are practically a capella. For us human beings, though, this debut is a low-key pleasure, spinning some of the most sharply observed story songs we've heard in ages. - TeamRock

"The Florida Folk-Bluesman who spins tales of murder and madness - The Blues Magazine, November 2015"

Two years ago, in the bowels of a Florida software company, Robert Chaney sat plotting his escape. "I was way back in a corner, away from everybody else," he remembers on the phone to The Blues, "I had a little piece of paper and headphones, I was listening to songs and taking them apart. I'm going through a pretty nasty divorce at the moment, and I started writing this album when that relationship was already moving off the rails."

Chaney applied for a job transfer to London in 2013, and has become a full-time musician there. But there's no escaping his headspace, which tends toward the dark side. "Lyrically, Skip James was a big influence. I mean, that guy is an unashamed misogynist. That's not a nice thing, but in terms of dark subject matter, I took a lot from him as to what a song should be like."

His debut album Cracked Picture Frames shows a mastering of the third-person story song, Chaney picking a sparse folk-blues acoustic while painting pictures of domestic abuse and psychosis. "I didn't know anyone in London," he explains of the almost-solo format. "And most of the music I was listening to was one person in a room with an instrument: a recording of a moment in time. That idea was the statement, the artistic credo of the album."

The lyrics, he continues, aren't quite autobiographical, but certainly closer to home than stories clipped from the newspapers. How hard was it to write in character as a wife-beater for Black Eyed Susan? "I don't have that on my conscience, but I've stared it right in the face. It was based on things I've seen in my life, and also dramatised stuff and your own imagination."

The Ballad of Edward and Lisa is bleaker still. "Well, that's a true story," says Chaney. "Lisa was a co-worker of mine in Florida. All the names are the same. All the events are accurate. Lisa was going through a lot of stuff - I think there were drugs involved - and she got into a situation with her nephew. I don't know if you'd call it a psychotic episode or what, but she thought he was possessed and he needed to be purified through the eyes with this little knife she had. I think she just got out of prison, actually."

Then there's The Cyclist, which follows a couple haunted by the guilt of a hit-and-run. "I was watching a lot of 60s films and French New Wave," says Chaney, "reading a lot of hardboiled crime fiction, and studying how those writers and film-makers use tension to move a story along. Luckily, that's not a true story."

Maybe not, but Chaney is confident there are enough macabre events unfolding in his adopted hometown to sustain him. "Definitely," he nods. "London is an inspiring place. I like the grey. I like the rain. I like that kind of stuff." - TeamRock

"Robert Chaney - Cracked Picture Frames"

Cracked Picture Frames by Robert Chaney is a debut record with the heft of a seasoned volume. There are no singles: these are all deep cuts. It may be easy to miss the trees for the forest, with the “one man and a guitar” composition of the album. The melodies are alternately sweet, bitter, and haunting, and Chaney wields his guitar and breathy voice with equal precision, but the world has not yet begun to run short of talented guitar players or folks with interesting voices. The wordsmiths, the songwriters, the ones with voices and not just vocal chords…those are far more rare.

Chaney is from Florida but now resides in London, and while there are musical arrangements that seem decidedly European this is unquestionably an American folk record. There’s some Townes here, and some Dylan; in our corner of the musical world, unquestionably Chaney’s lyrical contemporaries are Isbell, Moreland, and Kneiser. These are songs that need to be inhaled and exhaled, taken in. I listened to it repeatedly before I stopped rushing through it, before I allowed my mind to take the time that these songs deserve.

A large component of my dawning appreciation was studying the lyrics as I listened to the song, pouring over the words as the sound washed over me in turn. I could quote them at you incessantly, as each track has plenty of captivating turns of phrase: the heartbreaking inevitability of domestic violence as told by the abuser as he watches his life slip away in “Black Eyed Susan”, the masochistic melancholy of “The Morning After”, the tragedy of all-too-common Costa Rican auto fatalities in “Corazones Amarillos”…these are ten well-chosen stories, well-told.

While it’s not clear how many of these stories are true to life, either in Chaney’s experience or that of another, he’s proven he can take the grist of life and turn it into something palatable, even nourishing. Closing track “The Ballad of Edward and Lisa” is ripped from horrific ‘only in Florida’ headlines, about a woman who attempted to blind her nephew in order to save him from the Devil, and how the boy’s aunt and grandmother both left him to bleed overnight. The song is careful and delicate, somehow both factual and compassionate. Chaney’s guitar dances around his singing the same way his lyrics dance around the subjects of his songs. These are flawed people trying to explain themselves best they can; nothing is excused, nothing explained away. There is love here, and loss, despair and freedom, and all of it is viewed evenly and with open eyes.

Cracked Picture Frames by Robert Chaney is Essential Listening. This is a powerhouse of potent songs, all the more impressive because it is the artist’s first record. The Ninebullets crowd is the perfect audience for the twin beauty and sadness that Chaney writes, and I’m unbelievably excited to share this record with you. -


Cracked Picture Frames (2015)



Tall and thin, as pale as a sheet of A4, guitarist/singer/songwriter Robert Chaney is not the kind of person you imagine hailing from sunny South Florida. But Florida is a place of contradictions. It is a land of technicolour sunsets and torrential storms. Of glittering skyscrapers and sun-rotted bungalows. Of Disney World and designer drugs. And so perhaps it is really no surprise that a person like Chaney can come from a place like Florida and make music - bitter, violent ballads played on a rickety acoustic guitar - that transcends any box into which it is placed.

As well as being inspired by early Dylan and Townes Van Zandt, Chaney projects his debut Cracked Picture Frames through a dusty existential lens pointed at the American South with technique adapted from such inspirations as French film New Wavers, Truffaut, Godard and Melville as well as Southern Gothic authors like Cormac McCarthy and Carson McCullers. 

Recorded live at London's Regal Lane Studio with Ken Brake, the album's aesthetic draws on the lo-fi minimalism of Chaney's French-film heroes, achieving a cavernous depth with little more than guitar, vocals and reverb. Cracked Picture Frames lingers like a ghost-image burned into the phosphor of an old TV set and continues to haunt the listener even after the last notes have faded and the house lights have come up. 

Chaney's dynamic approach balances the fluidity of literature with the aperture of filmmaking and so loosens the shackles of traditional song writing. The 'only in Florida' true-story violence of The Ballad of Edward and Lisa provides a harrowing example of this as it hauls us with frayed nerves through each tortured scene, transplanting the listener between starkly contrasting perspectives that include that of a news anchor reporting the horrific events. Chaney is able to propel the listener through time, space and personality with a certain dexterity that truly sets him apart from worthy contemporaries. 

With successful support slots for the likes of Buffy Sainte-Marie and Barna Howard under his belt, Chaney has also chalked up a London taping for legendary session-hosts, Daytrotter, and will enjoy well deserved coverage in the upcoming issues of Q Magazine and Classic Rock. Other influences - from Folkways Records and Topic Records: Peggy Seeger, Paul Clayton, Paddy Tunney and Herta Marshall. From 20s/30s pre-war blues musicians: Skip James, Charley Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Ma Rainey.

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