Sharon Robinson - Everybody Knows (2008)

Sharon Robinson
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It seems odd that Sharon Robinson is classified as a "new artist," but after two notable decades in the music business, she is finally letting the world discover what music insiders have known for years.  Though she's spent the most time as a supporting vocalist for artists ranging from Stevie Nicks to Aaron Neville, Robinson is best known in the industry as a Grammy-nominated songwriter, having collaborated for several years with legendary lyricist Leonard Cohen.  Similar to Gordon Chambers' transition five years ago, Robinson is now moving to the forefront to display her formidable skills with 2008's Everybody Knows.

It seems odd that Sharon Robinson is classified as a "new artist," but after two notable decades in the music business, she is finally letting the world discover what music insiders have known for years.  Though she's spent the most time as a supporting vocalist for artists ranging from Stevie Nicks to Aaron Neville, Robinson is best known in the industry as a Grammy-nominated songwriter, having collaborated for several years with legendary lyricist Leonard Cohen.  Similar to Gordon Chambers' transition five years ago, Robinson is now moving to the forefront to display her formidable skills with 2008's Everybody Knows.

The most obvious and expected influence on Everybody Knows is Cohen, whose 2001 album Ten New Songs was produced by Robinson.  But perhaps even more powerful a comparison is to another former Robinson accomplice, Brenda Russell, especially on "Invisible Tattoo," the new album's signature track and one of the finest adult pop songs of 2008. Hinting at the vibe of Russell's "Piano In the Dark," but with Robinson's smoky alto voice floating over a deep groove reminiscent of Sade's best work, the cut is mesmerizing, and sets a high opening bar for the album.

The rest of Everybody Knows is immensely interesting, though perhaps too consistently downbeat for most listeners. Rich, occasionally oblique lyricism pervades the ten moody, ambient pieces, providing a sense of gravitas that is atypical for modern adult soul music.  The mood works best on the title cut and on the beautiful Aaron Neville-like track, "The High Road," a chilling song about a sad-but-resigned lover attempting to maintain her dignity at the end of a relationship. 

The compelling lyrical content takes the disc a long way, nearly making it essential.  But the album is dragged down by an overall sameness in tempo and Robinson's attractive but unchangingly breathy vocals, making it impossible to sustain for the entire CD the enthusiasm brought by the opening cuts.  While any of the ten cuts is worthy on its own (put your iPod on shuffle for this one), each loses impact when all are joined together, back to back, over an hour.  But despite the lack of sonic variety, it is tough to find fault with the consistent strong material that graces the album.  And in a market that is deathly short on intelligent, high quality adult pop music, Everybody Knows is an auspicious, welcome first offering by a talented artist whose time in the sun has thankfully arrived.  Recommended.

By Chris Rizik 

 
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