It’s not difficult to grasp the idea that Billy Roberts and the Rough Riders is far more than a quintessential dinosaur rock practitioner. The bulk of Robert’s acclaim has been derived from writing scores of straight ahead catchy rock staples, always high on meaty hooks and usually embracing a lasting sense of depth. With these pre-conceived notions in mind, it is utterly astounding to conceive the resonating poignancy of his latest work, “Greenbah”. The 8 track album eschews the traditional party rock formula for something much more preeminent. Sure, there are a few requisite irresistible rockers, naturally encompassing the freedom-embracing images of driving at excessive speeds to destination who cares (“No One Knows Me”, “Blood and Bones”), but “Greenbah” is more ambitious in its quest for self-reflection than satisfying the thirst for immediately accessible hooks.
The album above all else, is an introspective ride through the struggles of love and life, baring its soul the entire way in a haunting yet memorable attempt to cure self-doubt with optimism. Perhaps self-reflection is really the overriding theme of “Greenbah” as the ambience of the album is awash in nostalgic rawness, each entry transcending a specific, over-riding mood upon the listener.
Billy Roberts paints these moods in layers of sometimes wistful, sometimes heartfelt storylines, but the accompanying musical themes are usually optimistic, transforming the atmosphere of a song like “Only One” which is really about loneliness, into an anthem.
When the brightest guitar chords imaginable emanate from the track, the immediate feeling conjured is defined innocence, a natural soothing warmth prescribed by jangly acoustics. Introspection is an over-riding emotion flowing from “Greenbah” as even when Roberts laments on “Don’t Tell Mama”, “Sinner,” “Little Johnny”, and “Ed’s Song”, it feels more like seriously reflecting on a starlit porch, drink in hand, than succumbing to the utter depths of despair.
The yearning, gorgeous melodies dripping from each song prescribe that recurring sense of optimism, that even if one has waffled the majority of their existence there still stands a remaining shard of hope.
It seems perhaps through a newfound maturity or optimistic focus that Billy Roberts is sugaring his self-doubt on purpose, as even when the album takes its darkest turns it is intentionally sandwiched between some mid-tempo dirty rocker and a rolling groove. This collision of insightful, honest lyricism with excellent musicianship drives not only the memorable singles, but is consistent throughout the record.
Always the prolific songwriter, sitting somewhere between Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, Roberts reaches the pinnacle of his abilities on “Greenbah”, digging deep to embrace the struggles of adult life while maintaining an air of youthful wistfulness. While each track maintains a pre-defined, requisite catchiness, repeated listens to the album transcribe the sense there is something much more profound here.
The songs combine the rocking elements of all of Billy Roberts and the Rough Riders’ past songs with a heightened focus on atmosphere and melody, and the collision of memorable musical tones with hauntingly reflective storylines which establish a lasting resonance.
Often, a requisite for a great song is the ability to dictate a certain mood or to conjure specific, life relating memories. “Greenbah” showcases Billy Roberts following this blueprint to a tee, specifically on standout songs like “Don’t Tell Mama” and “Little Johnny”, and is the primary reason this album contains his greatest overall performances to date.