Robin James – Saint Jude

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 2/5

If I was a script writer for Little Britain or The Fast Show and I was toying with the idea of coming up with a character to help lampoon the whole genre of self-indulgent singer-songwriters who walk amongst us, a character who could potentially embody all the foibles of the genre, encompassing the likes of everyone from Nick Drake and Donovan through to Devendra Banhart, Sufjan Stevens and beyond, I don’t think I could’ve come up with a better concept than Robin James.  This at first sounds disdainful, yet I don’t mean it to be; after all, I love the genre.  However you approach Saint Jude though, you can’t help but wonder whether this debut is meant to be a serious endeavour or just a joke.  Robin James appears to have a singing voice that is far more fragile than any human being should be made to endure, with the end of every line sounding very much like the final breath of a dying man.  I’m reminded of Syd Barrett’s solo albums but played on either 78rpm or on helium, then mixed with a sprinkle of the neo-romanticism of early Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Saint Jude is a difficult album to listen to.  Robin’s Romany Gypsy and Argentinean roots are not evident in either the sound of his voice, the style of his guitar playing or in the lyrical content of the songs.  The album was recorded live direct onto tape with no studio wizardry, one guitar, one voice, making for a sparsely arranged debut.  If Robin is serious here, then it is heartbreakingly sensitive stuff and reaches the recesses of despair that even Leonard Cohen couldn’t reach.  If it is intended as a little tongue in cheek, then Van Gogh provides the most memorable punchlines.  The only song that provides a significant shift in tempo is “Rag Doll Girl”, which betrays the singer’s fragility and proves that James has a stronger voice than first he lets on.  I don’t dislike the album as such, I just can’t imagine a follow up.