Gregg Robins – Everything That Matters (2011)

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Gregg Robins’ debut album, and this is quite a feat, speaks to the idea of loss — loss of family, loss of country — without ever descending into a shivery gloaming.

A Bronx transplant living in Russia, he was separated not just from his home but also from his children after suffering through a broken marriage, and that space between Robins and everything he so desperately loves couldn’t, at times, be any wider on the appropriately titled Everything That Matters.

Yet, the album’s intriguing instrumentation, and Robins’ dogged determination to find purchase in this new and uncertain world, keeps the project aloft. For all that he seems to have lost at first, there is something gained for Robins through the telling — and, through sheer force of will, it seems, things begin to turn for him.

Like most singer-songwriter projects, this is, on its face, a autobiographical, deeply personal journey. But, along the way, Everything That Matters transforms into something more universal, beginning with the way Robins transforms the album’s base of stark acoustic instrumentation — so reflective of the hard truths associated with divorce — with these richly expressive local textures. At times, you hear something in his soloing approaching klezmer; at others, there’s an angular Eastern European feel to the strings, as well.

By the time this trip is concluded, Robins has done much to reconcile things. There is a touching, ex-pat sentiment to tracks like “Morning In America” and “Heroes,” but at the same time Robins slips into a unmannered, folksy Russian dialect for the tune “Pages of My Life.” He moves from a desolate loneliness in his family life (“Sounds of the Day,” “So Many Ways” and, in particular, the shattering “Memories & Yesterdays”) toward the hill-topping vistas of “Just What I Needed” and the title track — songs that provide a detailed roadmap as Robins rediscovers love and ultimately reconnects with his long-lost daughters.

There arrives this particular resonance. For all of its specificity, Everything That Matters ends up dealing with some very universal things, delving into meaningful thoughts on loss and on what’s important. Just as particularly, Robins has crafted an album with a musical underpinning that keeps providing these small bursts of sunlight and surprise. Taken together, they make this one of the most uncommon of delights — an exploration amongst very familiar landmarks that somehow feels brand new.

Everything That Matters, a crisp, spacious sounding set scheduled to be issued Oct. 25, was mixed by Yvan Bing, who has worked with Phil Collins. The record was mastered by Greg Calbi, who did similar work for Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run and Paul Simon’s Graceland. David Hadzis was producer, along with Robins.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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