Summing up the qualities of an artist like singer/songwriter Rob Reid can be a daunting task given that, in this day and age, the most truly brilliant of artists often make it a point to disguise themselves. It's a virtue one wouldn't want to see incarnated any differently, really - there's nothing more satisfying than suspecting the curious and interesting, and seeing your suspicions proven right as rain.
Let's be frank, though - solo singer/songwriters as a bulk genre, tend to be a dime a dozen. Usually, if not comedic, they're bleeding heart navel gazers with little more to reflect upon than their inner pain, the beauty or misery of life, relationship A or B and/or whatever something or other they deem enchanting today for whatever idle reason.
Chicago native Rob Reid subscribes to none of this, and while there are many of us who determinedly seek all that which is refreshing in the field of new music, we're outnumbered by those who adore the status quo. This is how "critic's bands" are born, and though this is a limiting and often dreaded label applied to any artists seeking commercial fanfare, it doesn't come without its earned and deserved stature and approbation. It isn't always the mass appeal death knell it might seem.... and it certainly isn't for the likes of Rob Reid.
Reid's newest collection Prairie Shanties of the Landlocked Mariner (released Tuesday, December 4th, 2012), marks possibly his finest hour, and stands as exquisite proxy for the left of center dynamic he evinces. The album art suggests you're holding some bargain basement 1970's has-been's one off recording, maybe culled from the bottom shelf of your local public library's dusty archives; but it ultimately proves subterfuge to Reid's adroit and crackerjack songs about gloriously nostalgic fading fads ("roller skates are no longer in fashion, how 'bout an RCA Victor instead?" - in the opening track "The Man Who Slept Too Long"), spaghetti western montages of present decay and despair verses salad day memories ("Wildflowers on Chene": "Skeleton storefronts stand their ground stubbornly, like a defeated fighter's last remaining teeth"), and the oh so brilliantly malignant (however short and sweet) kalimba laden account of opposite result to desired directive ("Mutiny on the Fronto Parietal"). You can't help but wonder just how far Reid can jam his tongue in his cheek, and if repeated listens might reveal some or other sagacious quip you just weren't sharp enough to catch the first time. You're bound to be out-witted here, especially considering that if you weren't familiar with Rob Reid before, you likely came into this ill-prepared. Added, the deliberately discordant string refrains in "This Horse Can Never Be Tamed" are brilliantly unbridled, and neatly serve the song's dramatic metaphor - which Reid recites as whimsical desiderata for his inner naturist.
All these compliments to wit aside though, Rob Reid doesn't sell short honing catchy little ditties that don't require you share his brainiac disposition to enjoy. At their base and face, Reid's songs are all catchy and sing-along, regardless of whether or not you have any reverence for what they're about. "Me & Johnny Mac" for example (you might notice he likes the name Johnny for his characters on this album - as it appears in two different songs, and only two tracks apart), is something reminiscent of The Bodeans' "Good Things", and a well-done cover of harpist Joanna Newsom's "Sadie" appearing as the second to last entry offers that "standard issue" recognizability that caters to popular appeal. The line "this isn't my tune, but it's mine to use" takes on a sort of counter significance to the original artist's intent, and that too speaks to Reid's wherewithal.
Rob Reid is a voracious listener of traditional music from around the world, and draws from influences ranging from hi-life and griot, to bossa nova and classic jazz. In live performances he is often accompanied by The Reliable Rascals, or uses a looping station to layer percussion, vocal harmonies, secondary guitar and even kitchen ware. He has played an assortment of venues ranging from coffee shops and restaurants, to farmer's markets and charity events, and house concerts. He's recently completed a painfully brief midwestern tour, but keep tabs on his reliablerascal website for the opportunity to enjoy his future live performances. You can sample and purchase Prairie Shanties of the Landlocked Mariner, as well as his previously recorded work, by clicking the album cover below.