Listening to Beth Robinson's music alone in the dark might make you feel like a special confidant, as if, long after midnight when everyone else has gone to sleep, the two of you have conspired to cut the small talk and stay up late discussing what really matters. Good conversation is the balladeer's worthiest currency, and Robinson's debut album makes a generous outreach; it's her half of a heart-to-heart.
Her half, of course, is the self-described Heart of a Hunter, but the description seems invitingly unguarded when enfolded in the fabric of her husky singing voice. As told chiefly through that voice and the 1965 Gibson Hummingbird guitar that once hibernated in her closet, Robinson's songs have confessions to make, and they limn the emotional nuances that distinguish lament from regret.
"I went through a sort of dark period where nothing seemed right anymore," she says. "Nothing satisfied like it used to. Only music made me feel happy." Robinson's largo folksiness, infused with accents of jazz, has been especially well received at the Freight & Salvage, where she and the new album will officially go public this Tuesday.
"I feel very comfortable at the Freight," she says. "I've done so many open mikes there I can't even tell you. I got encouragement whenever I was starting to fade."
It seemed like the logical choice for her first CD-release celebration. Robinson, who lives in Kensington, says she has been writing and playing music "furiously" for the past six years. "And I just decided to make a big investment. In me. Why not? The stock market was crashing. The economy was tanking. Time to spend a whole bunch of money on me!" It was also, she admits, the most productive way to mitigate a midlife crisis. She enlisted her most trusted musician friend, Doug Blumer of the trio the Westerleys, to help assemble an album.
"I was struck immediately by the beauty of her melodies and chords," says Blumer, who produced, arranged, and performed on Heart of a Hunter, and, to promote his own new solo album, Doug Blumer's Ten of Hearts, will join Robinson onstage this Tuesday evening. "There are a lot of commercial posers out there," he adds, "but Beth really has something to say." And with all due modesty, Robinson seems to agree: "There has been a recurring feeling all my life of standing on the outside looking in. Of not quite fitting in," she says. "I am learning that the way "in' is through my music. Instead of using my music as only a way inside myself, I am starting to see it as a way to reach out and connect with others."
That threshold is the musician's sacred ground; in order to confide in folks alone in the dark, one must put in some crowd time under the stage lights. "I want my performance to hold up to the expectations of my album," she says. "This is new. And hard. And scary. Not just putting the songs out there, but putting me out there, too." Beth Robinson and Doug Blumer play Tuesday, September 23, 8 p.m., at Freight & Salvage Coffee House, 1111 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets $16.50 at the door. For more info, visit FreightandSalvage.org
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