Robbie Bankes hails from Calgary and is currently studying at the University of Telemark. Foothills is his first album although you can get his demo set, Through February Snow, for whatever you want to pay via his website. His music is a mixture of original songs and pure Americana and his sound verges on a transatlantic take on folk-rock. This is a cracker of an album: Robbie has such a great voice and is an inventive songwriter weaving Scandinavian influences into his songs while retaining his Canadian roots.
The album opens with a version of ‘Geordie’ from Arkansas. This is a song that’s been done so many times but I think this is the best version I’ve ever heard. I never thought I’d say this but ‘Geordie’ rocks. It’s a big band number, relatively speaking, with Charlie Hase on pedal steel and/or Weissenborn, Mark Grosjean on bass and the intriguingly restrained drums of Melissa McWilliams. They make a really rich sound that just rolls over you and I really like Melissa’s drumming.
Next come two of Robbie’s own songs. ‘Alice’ is partly about spending a day in Vancouver and partly about memory and ‘February Snow’, which seems to be its natural bedfellow. Again it’s a big sound and the percussion is a joy Then he returns to the tradition with a version of ‘The Unquiet Grave’ influenced by Lau. This is another song that’s been done to death – at least for someone of my age – but Robbie gives it new life. ‘Ivan Ivan’ is explicitly influenced by an old Norwegian tune, appropriate to a rather bleak song and ‘The Blackest Crow’ is a love song from the Civil War – the Americans’ not ours.
Robbie throws in a banjo instrumental and three original songs derived from his European travels before closing with ‘Seven Gypsies’. He credits Nic Jones with most of the words but uses his own tune to refresh the song.
This may be one of best debut albums I’ve heard but at the moment only ‘Geordie’ is available for download in the UK. Let’s hope that’s just a taster.
Artist’s website: http://www.robbiebankes.com/
‘February Snow’ – official video: