Montreal-based songwriter Rob Lutes has been playing with guitarist Rob MacDonald for over a decade now, time enough to develop the wonderful interplay between acoustic (Rob L) and resophonic (Rob M) guitars evidenced on this recording. In that time, Rob Lutes has released several solo albums which have built him a solid reputation as a songwriter; though he has an oblique way with words that makes his songs not so immediate as some, his tendency to wordplay, to unexpected references and to little bombs of profound understanding gives his song legs, as they slowly unfold their meanings to the listener. He deals in serious subject matter, in the complexities of life, the need for humans to connect with each other, the value of a constant love and the occasional struggle to escape the blues. His singing is husky and impassioned in a low-key close-to-the-mic kind of way, and you can hear that he's a bluesman at heart.
There are four covers mixed in with the ten Lutes originals: Ain't Nobody's Business sees the guys picking away, their fingers dancing briskly on the strings; Rob M's style is more fluid than Rob L's but they play as a team so tightly that it's hard to tell who's doing what at times. This turns out to be as light hearted as the Robs get on this album; Sleepy John Estes' song, Drop Down Baby, features some gorgeous picking with Rob M's break in the middle sounding positively exuberant and gloriously loose-limbed; otherwise it's Rob Lute's introspective, impassioned blues vocal that holds the focus. Phone Call From Leavenworth is the third cover, written by Chris Whitley who is a new name to me. The real curveball comes with the fourth cover, The Bee Gees' To Love Somebody. Pure pop in the company of all these un-commercially minded songs seems quite odd, but it certainly works. I've certainly always had a soft spot for the song, one of those magic moments when pop music actually touches on something real and the Robs have clearly felt the truth it holds, too.
There's pretty much an hour of music on this album; as a concert performance in an intimate setting such as the one where this was recorded, that's fine. As a cd to pull off the shelf it possibly feels a little long, though that's probably not true for established fans. Suffice to say that the appearance of Jozy Fever and Claire Hayek on backing vocals, during the song Interstate, seems to add a new dimension altogether. Generally, though, I get the feeling that Rob Lute's growl is the sound of boulders rumbling along the stream bed, whilst Rob MacDonald's sweet style is the sound of the bubbles and spume dancing on the surface. Can't have one without the other.
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