ROBBIE CAVANAGH – To Leave / To Be Left (At The Helm ATH 99021)

LeaveOriginally from Portland, Maine and now based in Manchester, Cavanagh’s second album, To Leave / To Be Left, explores, as the title succinctly puts it, the end of relationships and what’s taken away and what remains behind. As such, it opens with ‘Get Out Alive’, a full-bloodied slice of guitar-driven Anglicana that sparkles with hooks, tumbling melody lines and punchy chords as he sings “We took our time and then we screwed it up, but it we screwed it together. There’s no use pretending it was good, but there’ll come a point where we both regret it.”

However, save for the shuffle along feel of ‘Reverence’, this is atypical of what follows and he quickly rings the changes, taking the tempo and the volume down for the fragile, falsetto-voiced mid-tempo ballad ‘Godsend’, his voice taking on a softer, more vulnerable note for its euphoric awakening of salvation found in love. It’s a mood that continues through the more soulful, organ-backed ‘Love Comes Quickly’ where he slightly recalls the Eagles circa their first two albums mingled with hints of Dobie Gray and Van Morrison.

Indeed, the lyrics often more impressionist than narrative, the rest of the album continues to mine this quieter, more reflective side. ‘Still Talkin’’ is again an organ-backed soulful number with a steady slow repetitive drum beat that briefly swells midway before falling back into aching melancholy while ‘Let You Down’ offers a simple acoustic guitar backdrop to its lyrics of regret and pessimistic view of love’s eventual collapse with ‘Fool’ another bluesily soulful slow sway that gradually builds on almost gospel waves towards the end.

Interestingly, ‘Roles Reversed’ offers a tangent to the dominant theme of fractured romance in a poignant vignette about a son and his ageing father and the onset of dementia as he sings “We have all the time that the lord can give, but the lord’s time is running out. Your hands are strong and your eyes are sure, but I can see in your smile that the memories are blurred.”

Although I think breaking up the pervasive languid musical mood slightly in the latter half of the album might not have been a bad idea, that in no way reflects on the material, closing with an emotionally wrenching picture of the disintegration of a dysfunctional relationship in the pedal steel-streaked finality of ‘He’s Alone’. It may not be the most optimistic and affirmative album you’ll hear this year, but it will surely strike a chord in anyone who’s known that there is best part of breaking up.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Scars’ – official video:

Robbie Cavanagh announces new album

Robbie Cavanagh

Robbie Cavanagh returns with his stunning second album To Leave / To Be Left, out 13th October via At The Helm Records

Recorded at Eve Studios near Manchester, To Leave / To Be Left finds Robbie Cavanagh (sounds like ‘Copa Cabana’) building upon his debut with eleven new tracks exploring, “leaving and being left. What’s taken away and what’s left behind.”

Eve Studios is an old vicarage full of old BBC equipment and collected antiques, giving the album a really natural, old sound without feeling forced. Robbie, producer Roo Walker and engineer Henry Broadhead worked closely together, deciding on each sound, each instrument, each tone. Keen to make the album sound as natural as possible, drums, bass and at times guitar and vocal were all recorded live.

“Most of my vocals were one take. I think the whole record just has a very live feel to it. It’s more instinctive.” Cavanagh continues: “This collection of songs has been accumulated over a few years. Some are much more recent, some were written just after the first record. We started with about 25 songs, and in quite a natural way, the more I played them, to myself, other people or at concerts, the more they started a natural selection process and soon it was clear which songs were the strongest and which fitted in a frame work. It was important having Roo involved, because it’s easy to get precious about certain songs that may not be the strongest but have an emotional tie. Roo was able to make sensible decisions on the song choices and together we put together a record that has a theme, a style and a mood that we’re really happy with.”

The personal, emotional tales and stories on To Leave / To Be Left find Cavanagh further understanding his approach to songwriting,

“Sometimes writing is a very natural process. I tend to find in a lot of situations, the first thing you wrote was the best. The more you wrestle with an idea and try to change it, the more contrived it becomes. I’ve learned to go with my instincts a little more.”

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Robbie Cavanagh link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.


Artist’s website:

An oldie – ‘Which Way To New York’: