The singer/songwriter realm is filled to overflowing with earnest artistes, each one eager to tell you their own story in an onslaught of self-expression. Tim Robinson, however, has got an entirely different agenda on Helena’s Radio. Robinson may be a guitar-strumming troubadour, but he’s got a poet’s ear, a short-story writer’s heart, and a portraitist’s eye – in fact, he lives a double life as an illustrator – and on the follow-up to his debut album, Money In The Woods, the New York-based balladeer wants to tell you about other people.
Some of the figures he features here are iconic, like the titular (no pun intended) subject of the tongue-in-cheek “Raquel Welch.” Some are legends with a slightly smaller footprint, like photography pioneer Diane Arbus, celebrated in “Diane,” Jack Kerouac’s On The Road pal Neal Cassady (“Gray Parrot”), and Beat poet Gary Snyder. Still less widely known is the late, great poet Louis Zukofsky, subject of “Zukofsky’s Room,” and then there’s “The Queen of Elmira” and the woman in question on Helena’s Radio’s title track, characters whose provenance is seemingly of a more personal nature.
But whether Robinson is unfurling an ode to one of America’s most adored sexpots or one of its more underappreciated writers, the end result is still roughly the same. Because it’s not biographies that he’s delivering here – these figures that loom large in Robinson’s mind are ultimately the tools he uses to capture a feeling with words and music, which is pretty much the goal of all great songwriting to begin with. Sure, these wouldn’t be the songs they are if they weren’t based around all the aforementioned folks, but the net effect of Helena’s Radio relies even more on Robinson’s own gifts as a melodist and wordsmith.
The production that frames Robinson’s finely wrought tunes is warm, organic, and largely acoustic, leaving lots of room for the writer’s lyrical gifts to strut their stuff. You could call it folk-rock, Americana, roots music, or whatever tag is most in vogue at the moment, but at its core, this is open music – the arrangements have spaces in them where air can move in and out, and the songs themselves move according to a flow that feels more attuned to the human heartbeat than the ticking of a metronome. In that way, it’s not unlike Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks or Leonard Cohen’s Songs From a Room; it’s an album that invites you to enter into its world, and once you’ve accepted the invitation, you discover another dimension of thoughts and feelings you never knew existed, ones that are new and yet strangely familiar, as if you’re encountering reflections of your own half-forgotten dreams.
In this regard, there’s nary a soul in the New York City singer/songwriter scene who would deny that Robinson’s work occupies a position of eminence in their sphere.
But in the end, it doesn’t really matter if only 10% of Robinson’s listeners come to Helena’s Radio knowing whom “Zukofsky’s Room,” for instance, is ostensibly about. Either they’ll Google the old guy, or just as appropriately, they’ll realize that ultimately the song’s about them too, just as much as it’s about the way all these stories are filtered through Robinson’s own unique sensibilities; hey, maybe he is singing about himself after all, the sneaky bastard! That’s the way it is with all great writers – no matter what the source of their inspiration, they find a way to make it connect with anyone who’s paying attention. And it would be a crime not to pay attention to Helena’s Radio, considering all the things you’d miss out on.
- Jim Allen (NY Music writer, East Village Radio)
Tim's previous recording, "Money in the Woods", received 4 stars from Paste Magazine.
Jack Hardy called Tim Robinson "one of the best songwriters in the country" and "the best songwriter you've never heard of".
Acoustic Live calls Tim Robinson "flat-out, without-a-doubt, one of the greatest lyricists around."
Suzanne Vega... "What can I tell you about this collection of Tim Robinson's songs? He is one of my favorite songwriters. You have to read his songs as well as listen to them to get just how striking his ideas are. The songs are witty and sometimes dark but never cynical.... the world reflected through the prism of an intelligent and original mind. Get to know it."
Performing Songwriter... "His easy delivery falls onto your ears like the cadence of a long-lost brother or favorite uncle—someone you’ve been longing for and never get to see enough, someone with great stories, someone you love."
These songs are dedicated to my dear friend Jack Hardy, I will miss him.
A huge thanks to Chris Tarrow for his masterful work in guiding these songs to fruition.
All songs written by Tim Robinson
All tracks produced, engineered, and mastered by Chris Tarrow except Zukofsky's Room and Deer on a Metal bridge, produced by Rob Morsberger.
Recorded at "The Crooked House" in Brooklyn NY, Croton on Hudson, NY, Austin TX, and New Jersey.
digital editing - Joe Philips (thanks to Joe for releasing this recording on Wildcat Records)
Tim Robinson - vocals, acoustic guitar, and harmonica
Dan Vonnegut - drums and percussion
Chris Tarrow - acoustic guitars, mandolin, all sorts of electric guitars
Byron Isaacs - bass
David Hamburger - dobro and pedal steel
Ron Oswanski - Hammond B3
Sara Worden - violin & viola
Rob Morsberger - accordion
Peter Calo - National steel guitar on Deer on a Metal Bridge
Ina May Wool - background vocals (parts composed by Daniel A. Weiss)
Bill Kelly - background vocals