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CD REVIEW - Stuart Robertson - The Cold Inside - Live
By Alex Jasperse - 01/28/2008 - 08:56 PM EST

Artist: Stuart Robertson
Album: The Cold Inside – Live [2008]
Label: Prime Sound
Genre: Piano Rock
Production/Musicianship Grade: 10/10
Songwriting Skills: 10/10
Performance Skill: 10/10
CD Review:

There are rare moments in a live performance when a musician touches upon something sweeter than they’ve ever found in studio. Their expressions become as easy and as graceful as friendship or love, allowing us a glimpse into something we don’t necessarily have access to – their creative worlds in their most natural state.

As a follow-up to his critically acclaimed album, World Figured Out (2007), The Cold Inside – Live is a selection of introspective piano-driven pieces from Stuart Robertson’s two previous studio albums. Amounting to what feels like a stadium-size concert packed into an intimate club, with nothing more than a piano and his voice, Robertson’s illuminating signature blend of piano rock once again reveals why he’s well beyond the talent of many of his peers.

With its immediate emphasis on the earthy and grainier qualities of his sound, the simple ascending piano melody in “Feeder” instantly heats up the clapping hands of the audience. Gradually increasing in intensity, Robertson’s comfortable voice leads the piece forwards, shaping its melancholic progression with the occasional hint of Nick Drake’s minimalist styling. Bringing things to a close with his distinctive broken chords, he lets the notes gracefully drift over into the playful rhythmic waltz of “Porcupine,” a number that shines bright with clever poetic imagery.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Robertson’s playing is that, even live, he has the ability to create the richest of soundscapes with merely his voice and piano. The soul-wrenching impact of “Green Bay” makes it so easy to forget this – how a minimalist gathering of notes can form an ingeniously simple melody that radiates with an orchestral aura. Making a slight change in direction, Robertson’s knack for being laconic and upbeat in the same breath is demonstrated once again in the deviously intelligent “Change My Battery.”

Sudden, yet well placed, the radio single, “Never Wanted More,” is a brief intermission from the live performance. While considerably different from the previous pieces, its groove-oriented direction allows the organ to step into the forefront to stretch its creative legs alongside the lightly picked melody of an acoustic guitar. Robertson’s warm and dusky vocals dip in and out with a quiet-jazz-meets-trip-hop sensibility – taking the time to allow each layer to naturally finish its own idea – making it all too easy to get lost in its lush depths.

Signaling for the listener to resume their seat, the audience welcomes Robertson back for the second half of the performance, beautifully transitioning between different ends of the emotional-spectrum lyric and music wise in “Glow.” After thanking the audience, Robertson goes on to illustrate why his musical poetry and composition skills are truly in a class of their own.

The tranquilizing force that “Big Plan,” “Plane” and “Think Too Deep/Ground” each wield are utterly surreal. Beautifully illustrating how Robertson can perfectly transform fragile statements into powerful and deeply moving masterpieces, it’s simply mesmerizing listening to the sonic architecture of these pieces. The way in which he sings with a kind of vulnerability that very few artists can emulate, makes it humbling to listen to. Add to this Robertson’s decision to combine what were two (somewhat) separate pieces from World Figured Out into “Think Too Deep/Ground,” becomes a musical experience that stets the limitations of descriptive words.

Modifying the original pieces to suit nothing more than the piano and vocals, “Last Thing” and “Harder to Fight” revisit selected melodic ideas from earlier on in the performance. Similar to its original impact on World Figured Out, “Harder to Fight” brings to mind the work of Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters/Sun Kil Moon), and, while this time there are no dramatic volume shifts with the propulsive force of the drums, not a single word or musical idea is lost in its somewhat passive arrangement.

The Cold Inside – Live is a rare piece of music that will speak to something in everyone. This is music to treasure, music that is pure and simple, running the gamut from deeply introspective and distant, to contemplative and cunningly brilliant. With each listen its meaning intensifies – pulling the listener deeper in to a state of awareness and self-realization – revealing something new to excite the musical imagination. This is the power of true creativity at its best, and thankfully, the curtain will never close on this performance.

The Verdict: 10/10

For more information, please visit Stuart Robertson’s official website.

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