monoblogue music: “Go By Myself” by Billy Roberts And The Rough Riders
I guess I’m becoming an old hand at this because I’m now doing subsequent releases from artists I’ve previously reviewed. Last year I took a look at Australian country-rocker Billy Roberts and his band, and was impressed enough that “The Last of the Originals” made it into my top five for the year.
However, I cautioned in that review that Roberts needed to work on his vocal range because he sings in a monotone fashion, and this album only has a few points of modest improvement. Perhaps the best examples of writing to suit his voice come on Who Do You Think You Are and the title track, where he moans about going by himself “from a world gone wrong/from a love gone bad.”
Yet if you listen strictly to the music, it could be argued that Roberts is stepping back a bit from the country side of country-rock and going in an edgier direction. Menacing guitar has always made me enjoy a song more, and that is used to good effect on the opening song Beat Down and Broken. While you may hear quite a bit about the subject in that genre, Driving doesn’t come across as a country song, either. From The Ashes is the best example of a country rocker.
If there is one aspect where Roberts stays within his classic country influences, though, it’s in the heartbreak and desolation he writes about. Be warned: this isn’t an upbeat album. The resignation of Forget About Me, lamenting about missing Kayla, singing about Hard Times, the snarly mood of Seen It All Before – it all comes to a somber climax on Goodbye Old Friend, which closes the set.
One song that got me, though, was Gone To The Dogs, because it’s about Detroit – and to a large extent he’s right. I could make a political case why, but that’s for other posts. (If you’re one of those who come here strictly for music reviews, understand that most of my other content is political and I grew up an hour south of Motown, so that song had a particular appeal.)
There are artists who have scored big even without vocals that could win “The Voice,” and it’s because they write songs catering to their strengths. There are also those who lead the band and don’t sing, hiring a vocalist and concentrating on writing great music. Knowing this was a second effort, I was a little disappointed that the move forward was so modest because the vocals actually regressed a bit in my mind. I liked “The Last Of the Originals” a lot in 2014, but this latest release is a step or two back.
As always, I invite you to judge for yourself. Maybe this album won’t make my top five this year, but musically I like the direction Billy Roberts is taking – here’s hoping next time he puts it all together.