Billy Roberts And The Rough Riders – Greenbah – Album Review
What a journey Wild Bill has been on!
For those following along with his music here at our pages, you already know we started reviewing the lead-singles from this record as far back as June of last year. Between then and now, we reviewed four of the songs from the eight in total on the new album Greenbah – so I’m back again to make sure to fill in all the gaps and get you all that good info you need to know about what Billy Roberts And The Rough Riders are up to this time around on their third official full-length release.
There is always something to learn isn’t there? For instance…take the name Greenbah…this being technically the fifth review involving this record, I figured it was time to figure out exactly what that might mean. As it turns out, it’s a place…located in a magical place in South Wales, Australia where apparently they get to exotically name everything around it however they please. According to what I was able to find out, Greenbah is inside of Goobang National Park, just south of Trewilga…and so on & on; I’m boring the readers from Australia right now but for the rest of us, these places sound downright fictional don’t they? Whether or not that is the defining inspiration for this album or not…well…I don’t have any quotes or anything like that to support all these claims, but it does seem fairly possible given that Billy Roberts And The Rough Riders come from Australia…gotta be more than coincidence right?
I think “Old Friend” is a completely interesting tune to begin this record with. My wife is actually out of town right now, but the first time I heard this tune, I could feel her ghost staring at me from across the room, raising up a questioning eyebrow the way she tends to anytime something sounds anything less than completely straight-ahead with every corner rounded. The music of “Old Friend” might be hands-down some of the best I’ve heard from this crew and certainly one of the most inviting tracks they’ve created for the beginning of an album…the guitars sound excellent, sounds like piano and bass are filling in the atmosphere around them, all kept in-check from wandering too far away from the precision beat. The transitions from part-to-part are also excellent; the flow of “Old Friend” completely works with the themes of comfort & nostalgia and welcomes you right into the album. As for the vocals…I absolutely get that this is going to go 50/50 here; as a fan of Billy’s music, personally I think this is awesome. I think he’s branching out here…he’s on a thin branch in a sense, you can hear a bit of trepidation in there like the gruff-man in charge is getting used to letting his feelings show…but the more he commits, the stronger the lines come out sounding. It’s honest as fuck in the way that it’s recorded – and I think the incredible sincerity you’ll hear in the unfiltered, no bullshit approach to the truly beautiful melody in the vocal-flow should seriously win you over. Right away “Old Friend” stood out to me as not just a great song, but likely a song that would continue to stay a favorite each time I listened to Greenbah…and I was right about that. I can hear how some people will hear the vocals on this one…they’re not ‘perfect’ or coated in any kind of plastic-pop coating, so some people are gonna be haters. Whatever…fuck’em! I think “Old Friend” really does branch-out the sound of Billy Roberts And The Rough Riders in a fantastic new direction…and I think the people that ‘get it’ are gonna fall in love with this tune like I did.
I’m still a big fan of “No One Knows Me” and think this short, less-than two-minute cut is a great one to have early on in Greenbah’s list to get the energy flowing and connect the past & present of Billy Roberts And The Rough Riders together. “No One Knows Me” is always over far too soon for me. I also think it’s a fairly important tune on this record…it fits that underground-rock meets subtle-psychedelic vibe and the whole song never quits, never lets up during its two-minutes. It’s followed on the album by the single released just prior, called “Only One” – which I still think is a brilliant tune. I commented heavily on the pop-influence you can hear in the rock of this cut, and just how well the band wears this suit in the previous review of “Only One,” which you can read up on here. Couldn’t be happier to see the placement of such a solid tune on Greenbah – this is right where this song belongs in the lineup and I would argue tooth & nail that it’s still one of the album’s best songs. I maintain…it’s a slightly different side of Billy Roberts And The Rough Riders, but I also maintain that it’s one that really, really works. “Only One” still gives me that…that like…”So. Central Rain” or “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” by R.E.M. vibe in the production here…it’s so damn warm, friendly, revealing and welcoming…nostalgic…reflective. You can call it whatever you like and compare it to whatever you wanna, I think it’s a great tune.
“Blood And Bones” was the second single I checked out from Greenbah, back in 2016 at the very end of the year. You can check out my full-thoughts on the song in its single-form here – but I’ll also say that, sometimes within the context of an album, a vision, a set of tunes…things start to make more sense. I was a bit mixed in my initial reaction to “Blood And Bones” but I have definitely noticed that comfortable familiarity works strongly in Wild Bill’s favor…I seemed to welcome this tune back quickly and readily into my ears. Something about the way it sits here in Greenbah’s lineup seemed to make me feel like I appreciated this cut more this time around. It COULD be the set-up and residual feelings caused by “Only One” – but I think there’s more of a chance that this tune has had time to be absorbed and digested…sometimes that makes all the difference in the world. I really like what Billy’s doing vocally on this cut in the way they’re recorded…that last line of the verses drifting into a completely different effect & mix, it’s highly effective and really rad to listen to. There’s a bit of back & forth in this tune that I feel like sometimes I’d be more in the mood for than others, but again, gotta say that here within the full-context of Greenbah on a full album, “Blood And Bones” made much more sense to me.
Most of the pre-released singles dominate the album’s first half – the second half has a whole bunch of stuff I haven’t heard yet, starting brilliantly with “Don’t Tell Mamma.” Where to begin? LOVED this. Love the guitars…they’re beyond exceptional here and provide some extremely cool moments and highly inventive, imaginative and bold tones along the way. Love the piano/keys…they’ve got the song sparkling with just enough hope that “Don’t Tell Mamma” doesn’t sink ALL the way into the dark. Love the bass…it’s got the low-end filled in perfectly throughout this entire track. Love the way that Billy sings this one, he’s immaculately expressive on this song – he reminds me completely of J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. on “Don’t Tell Mamma” and that is ALWAYS an awesome thing in my books. You get a truly imaginative, dark and desolate atmosphere that has tangible drama, highly theatrical and heavy emotional moments that completely connect on this tune – there’s real vision on “Don’t Tell Mamma” – the focus and resulting execution in everything from the music to the vocals make for one of Greenbah’s most satisfying experiences and unique sounds on the entire record.
The impressive roll this album gets going on continues to display highlights and shines as it plays. With the newfound respect for “Blood And Bones,” and my own personal acceptance of the way Billy chose to approach the vocals on “Old Friend” – in my opinion, as far as I’m concerned, they’ve been cracking the bat and sending each of these tracks well over the fence for an audible home-run each time. “Sinner” keeps the streak alive with another did into a more pop-inspired rock sound in the music that contrasts really well with the contemplative lyrics and the almost sermon-esque sound of the subtle organ being played under the surface of this tune. Listen to those keys liven-up this tune in its middle! “Sinner” is fun in the music while being completely real through the vocals and lyrics…an examination of sorts about what makes a “Sinner” a “Sinner” and a comment on the fact that, hey, aren’t we all? Billy’s smart enough to not pass judgment, lest he be judged himself…”Sinner” was an insightful tune with a wicked groove that keeps it light on the surface, but the song itself, runs deep.
“Little Johnny” is one of my favorites from the Billy Roberts And The Rough Riders catalog. Did I say that way back when in the initial review of Greenbah’s lead-single? Click HERE to find out (Oooo suspense!). It’s a track that’s highly suited to Billy’s vocal-style…his battered-warrior tones sound like he would cough pure dust & tumbleweeds…that might be an odd description, but if you’re thinking of some of the great names in rock-music history, many of those gravelly voices would be right up there at the top of the charts. Every time I hear that lead guitar’s tone…that TONE…it’s just DRIPPING with golden honey ain’t it? The haunting atmosphere of “Little Johnny” hangs so thick in the air and moves at such an insightful pace that you get the audible-maximum out of EVERY note on this tune…that’s what I love about “Little Johnny.” There are layers of guitars that are at work here…violin being played with serious expression…solid bass-lines that give depth and punch to the mix; battered and bruised perhaps…but in my opinion, “Little Johnny” keeps swaying & swinging strongly and surely holds his own.
Holy Springsteen! At the outset of “Ed’s Song” with the brightness and warm-glow of the organ tones, this one begins by sounding like it would fit right into The Boss’ catalog. It’s the longest song on Greenbah…I think it might be one of the longest in the Billy Roberts And The Rough Riders’ musical arsenal too – usually he’s around that four-minute mark. I felt like they put together a really powerful chorus on this tune…which, ultimately is way, way shorter than the verses are…but the hooks you’re looking for reside there. I was more tossed up on the verses…I liked the words, wasn’t as sold on the approach to the melody during these parts but felt like the way they tackle the chorus makes the ride pay off here. It’s a CLOSE call. I’ve always been as honest with this crew as I have been with any other – they just know me better by this point…so I feel like I can tell’em more direct, like family. “Ed’s Song” is right on the line boys…it’s the only song that I felt like I was potentially questioning on Greenbah overall. Verse-wise, it probably needs a bit more variation in the vocal-melody to keep the people’s attention…it’s not really until the chorus hits that Billy comes alive and out of the hazy fog the Rough Riders have surrounded him in. It DOES make the difference in my opinion…that chorus is a short burst of everything RIGHT and essential to what you’ll connect & remember from listening to “Ed’s Song.”
Definitely another solid step forward and valuable contribution to the legacy of music that Billy Roberts And The Rough Riders are creating, and a worthy follow-up to their last record, Go By Myself. I think it shows continued progress and evolution between them…I think you can hear that they’re reaching out to the borders of rock in search of new ways to innovate their sound and keep it fresh within the band – and in many of the cases on this record, some real highlights have been produced that standout with the best in their growing cache of tunes. I like the slight infusion of pop-inclinations on tracks like “Only One” & “Sinner” and I like the more classic approach to the Wild Bill sound that you get from darker tracks like “Little Johnny” and “Don’t Tell Mamma.” This band continues to find new ways to explore their own sound & creativity and as a result, Greenbah comes out full of tunes that are charismatic, gritty and at times, even quite charming in their sentiment & melody – its impressive range of expression inside of eight songs makes it easy to stick with this record from beginning to end.
Find more music from Billy Roberts And The Rough Riders at Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/1wC8JHZE7uERUK1qajiL4e