the robber barons
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the robber barons


Band Americana Rock


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"the robber barons - kerosene communion"

Kerosene Communion is very Western, in a rock kind of way and also in a totally Old West kind of way. Think good 80s alternative music tied neatly up with a healthy dose of twang. It's sharp, electric and new. Yet somehow it manages to carry the voice of 100+ years of history with it. Americana infused with punk sensibilities with lyrics that seem to come from a good Gothic novel about the Old West. The album puts me on an old steam train, carrying my few possessions and wearing my one good dress and bonnet as I head for San Francisco to meet my merhcant husband who has gone out to make his fortune off the influx of gold prospectors. A time when desperate people left the east hoping to find a better life, quite literally the original American dream, and there's a certain sense onf hope that permeates it all - despite the dust and the terrible conditions and the leap into the great unknown of your own future.
The pedal steel guitar on the opening of "Slide on a Rail" pulls me right in. It's real alternative country in the sense of using what's traditionally expected from country music to make a different kind of music that will appeal to a an audience very distinct from country radio listeners. The lyrics are a neat, though gloomy, match to the sound.
"Mountain Time" kicks it up a bit and makes me a little desperate to be driving through the Rockies on a wild trip with a romantic interest doomed to fail. I'm not sure if I can find musical comparisons for this band. It's not so much that they are all over the place, or completely original, but they aren't as classified as the (mostly unclassifiable) music I cover here.
The album closes out with "Bare November Days" which kicks the leaves right off my fantasies of gallivanting through the West. It's chill and empty in a way that's still completely satisfying. The fiddle has the sound of solitude and the mountains I've been envisioning all through the album, but in this song the mountains are now dark and waiting for the heavy snowfall of winter.
This is a mood setting album for loneliness and remembered goodbyes. It plays well on a dreary overcast summer afternoon, but I think I'll be putting it into much heavier rotation on cold, sad winter nights. Get a copy yourself so you're prepared for those days when we're all huddled up in blankets and drinking hot cider. - cricket rodgers -

"robber barons review"

No doubt about it, these are talented and capable musicians with the original intelligence to fashion a genre that is almost distinctly their own. The songs are set inside sonic skyscapes where clounds are dark and sunlight dim."
Jerome Clark - Rambles -

"review of kerosene communion"

“This album is filled with classic, no nonsense songwriting and storytelling. The songs hit you from every angle possible. ‘Kerosene Communion’ is rock, country and Americana, all wrapped up in a dynamic and emotionally charged present. Each time you play it you'll feel something new.”
-Celis Freddy
celis freddy -

"robber barons review"

The Robber Barons
Kerosene Communion
[Home Wreckords 2007]

One might describe them in general terms as an alternative country sound that has turned gothic, or as having an obscure texture that represent the mysterious side of an already consolidated style. One would then expect that the faithful disciples of Sixteen Horsepower might be some reminder of the South, with their ancient ballades and stories of sins, instead one is confronted with a San Francisco quintet that seems to touch the universal and perennial themes of the faith, death and sin, setting their base on the loose soil of the country rock songs of past days. The Robber Barons of San Francisco can rely on the support of their three songwriters and their three solo voices (Nick Edwards, Kevin Johnson, and William Earl) who alternate along eleven episodes of honest rock derived from their roots in tune perfectly with the gender and certainly brilliant songwriting, that send out nothing but mysterious and seductive feelings. Their alternative country maintains a low profile, a collective electro-acoustic sound, never above the lines, seeming to prefer the clear darkness-evoking desolation of certain American provinces. All according to the rules, and even so, they still leave us thinking they have taken an original road. The persistent sound of Patti Weiss violin and the reverberations of the instruments recall the ’80, a certain frontier rock, the later rarely touched. Slide on a Rail shows a dryer vocality and a country rock rhythm of a more classic model opening the doors to the little march tune of Mountain Time, on this occasion, with a nasal and Dylanesque style of voice. Since the solo singers are not named, we can only guess that Edwards, Johnson, and Earl alternate as soloists (all playing guitar and occasionally accordion, joined by Alex Holderness on base and Jeff Kingsman on drums), a characteristic which guarantees a good amount of freshness to the band. The Robber Barrons excel mainly in the episodes having blue hazy tonalities like, Gold Wind Suddenly, which is accented by the violin, and Bare November Days, a long cavalcade in minor to the edge of the desert, the Mojave, perhaps, given their origin. In other latitudes they stick to a more consistent script, nicely done alt-country (Useful Sound, Waxahachie, Harris Country Ignorance Blues) which, however, does not seem to add youth and inventiveness to all that was told by all this year’s other groups. Even Though Alone, with certain shyness tries to caress a more roguish acoustic sound, with a piano in the foreground and a lazy pop rhythm. They are not the black knights of America, rather the faithful and decorous continuators of the species.
(by Fabio Carbone)
fabio carbone - roots highway (Sep 5, 2007) - roots highway

"kerosene communion review"

A potent, Americana-tinged quintet from outta the San Francisco Bay Area, THE ROBBER BARONS summon up an ominously mighty sound from the roots-rock elements on their suitably inflammatory 'Kerosene Communion'.

Ex-Wilco mainstay Jay Bennett has been known to describe the Barons' sound as "rural contemporary", and if you're searching for soundbites then that will do very nicely indeed, for The Robber Barons often hark back to the Godforsaken, Appalachian-style, fire'n'brimstone-spittin' schtick previously pioneered by the likes of 16 Horsepower: in itself a good continent or so removed from the kind of sound you'd expect to encounter from a Californian outfit.

And it makes for an impressive listen, transporting you on an oblivion-bound express to a place where it's not so much fame, fatal fame, but fatal fatal fatalism's that's the attraction. Both the band's twin vocalists Nik Edwards (guitars, banjo, accordion, melodica) and Kevin Johnson (acoustic guitar) sing in wracked, resigned voices and with skilful assistance from guests such as violinist Patti Weiss and Mac Martine's pedal steel, The Robber Barons have it in them to steal Alt.Country riches galore.

If you need proof, then try the double opening KO of 'Still' and 'Slide On A Rail'. With Weiss's wickedly skirling violin (think an Appalachian Dave Swarbrick), Jeff Klingman's menacing snare rattle and the lugubrious vocals, 'Still' soon comes on like Calexico under a stormy sky, while on the battered and bruised 'Slide On A Rail' ("now in dry season, the ground here is soft as a brick/ and I can't help wondrin' how long before I'm lyin' under it") the lure of the grave is nigh on tangible.

Both of these are compelling listens and there's plenty more to come. Songs like 'Mountain Time' and 'Waxabachie' employ scuttling railroad rhythms and shoot their rock'n'roll through with both roots-y abandon and penetrating darkness; 'Today (Is The Day)' gloriously fuses a heartbroken narrative with a potent gospel undertone and on 'Deguello Waltz' they gradually shape betrayal and redemption into a full-blown epic.

They save arguably the finest moment of all for the last word and 'Bare November Days': all sorrowful violin, dank enigma and a clammy, bare-branch starkness, it perfectly encapsulates the season of death and slow re-birth the song's title suggests. It's a great way to sign off and makes it abundantly clear that The Robber Barons' 'Kerosene Communion' is indeed the sound of a raging creative inferno. Let's hope this baby burns bright for some time yet. –tim peacock
- whisperin and hollerin

"review of kerosene communion"

On Kerosene Communion, The Robber Barons of San Francisco offer a collection of dark hued alt country that harkens back to the days of the mid 80's indie gothic Americana. A time when the fusion was fresh and fiery - an almost experimental pairing of traditional folk and modern rock. Jangly and cruchy twang-bar guitars roll over quick chooglin' drums, while desperate and sorrowful vocals sing mournful ballads alongside gospel tinged sun baked and sweeping alt country numbers. Sometimes tender, at others jubilant, there is, however, an underlying tension that tastes of despair here. Singers Nik Edwards and Kevin Johnson trade vocals from song to song while acoustic guitars, violin, accordion, melodica, banjo and pedal steel add the appropriate mood and coloration.

Robinson - Miles of Music - miles of music

"Bandwidth Feature"

These San Francisco Americana rockers known for stealing shows have a confession to make: "The band began quite by accident. We were gonna do just one gig," says lead vocalist and band ringleader Nik Edwards, singing like a canary. "We were shocked that there were so many people there. When the first run of a thousand copies of our 'Watch It Burn' EP quickly disappeared, we realized we might have something." A likely story. The Robber Barons' musical rampage began "one night in 2001, over a bottle of whiskey," Edwards admits. That's when he teamed up with co-singer and acoustic guitarist Kevin Johnson to make music that was then commonly called "alt-country." A Texas fugitive, Edwards had a long musical rap sheet that included singing gospel in Southern churches. But the Robber Barons are no choirboys. "We didn't set out to write dark, dreary tunes, but they sometimes come out that way, and we are always amazed at how people relate to that kind of sound," says Edwards. That sound continues on "Kerosene Communion," the band's new album. "Somebody told us that Willie Nelson heard the new CD and said he was really taken by us. But he said he had to sleep with the lights on that night."

Lineup: Nik Edwards, vocals, guitar, accordion, banjo, harmonica, melodica and just about anything else he can pick up and make noise with; Kevin Johnson, vocals, acoustic guitar; Jody Clarke, pedal steel; Jeff Kingman, drums; Alex Holderness, stand-up bass.

1. The Robber Barons' music should be filed between:

16 Horsepower and the Louvin Brothers; or between Bob Dylan and Bauhaus.

2. The soundtrack to what movie would your music best match?

"Clay Pigeons."

3. If you could collaborate on a song with any person, living or dead, who would that be?

Townes Van Zandt - although we would all probably die in the process.

4. If a junior high school asked you to play a cover song at the next talent show, what song and school would you choose?

"Purple Rain." Cool enough for the boys, and the girls would be all over us by the time we reached second period.

5. What is the meaning of life?

Life is not fair and does not pretend to be. When the s- hits the fan, it will not be dispersed evenly. Life is essentially the way we spend our days. So sing, dance and celebrate today - for today is all we ever have. Tomorrow is a false promise created by those who view themselves as too busy to sing and dance. Those people are usually the most afraid to die, for they know deep down that it was actually they who will have left unfinished business behind.

Check them out:

Next gig: 9 p.m. Fri., $8, 21+. With Killian MacGeraghty Band, the Resin Hits. Hotel Utah, 500 Fourth St., S.F. (415) 546-6300.

- Delfin Vigil,
- San Francisco Chronicle


dragging the river lp 2004
kerosene communion lp 2006



The Ballad of The Robber Barons
(Where we learn of the musical embalming of our Heroes)

The Robber Barons came together in 2000 as a vehicle for songwriters Nik Edwards and Kevin Johnson to record a few original tunes together. After releasing a self-recorded e.p. “Watch It Burn” later that year, the duo decided to put a full band together and do some live shows to capitalize on the buzz that the e.p. had unwittingly generated. The boys soon began incorporating lap and pedal steel, fiddles, accordion, banjos and other rootsy instruments into their songs, many of them played by multi-instrumentalist Edwards. Johnson and Edwards share lead vocal duties while Johnson pounds out freight train rhythms on his acoustic guitar.
After a number of well received live shows in California (Johnson hails from NY, Edwards from Texas), they recorded their debut full-length cd “Dragging The River” at Closer Studios in San Francisco, co-producing with Dylan Magierek (Innocence Mission, My Morning Jacket). The boys then added fulltime members Jeff Kingman on drums and Alex Holderness on standup bass. The band honed its alt-country flavored tunes while playing dates up and down the west coast.
In 2006, they recorded their second full-length cd with Michael Wilson (Paula Frazier). That release, “Kerosene Communion” immediately gained critical success and put the boys over the top, gaining radio play around the country and Europe for the singles, “Cold Wind Suddenly” and “Still”. Lufthansa airlines made the latter single part of their in-flight programming for a good part of the year. The band continues to tour and record on their own in strictly DIY fashion and recently added pedal steel guru Jody Clarke to the lineup.