Robinella, one of the most credible local almost-hit-it-big stories of the last decade or two, is still around, sans original instrumentalist Cruz Contreras (who is busy with his own project, the Black Lillies), but keeping its unusual jazz-country sensibility and its popular lead singer, Robin Bailey.
She took some time out, tending to her small children, but is back in 2013 with a new album due to be released in June. Ode to Love is a mixture of gypsy jazz and country, with a variety of top-flight instrumentalists. From her home in downtown Maryville, Bailey confirmed some details.
"The most exciting part is that Frank Vignola's playing on it," she says. "He sells out shows just as an instrumentalist!" The New York-based guitarist, known for his gypsy-jazz style, also helped produce his part of the album.
Much of the recording was done at Pomfret Center in Connecticut, with engineer Mark Thayer.
"I came back to Knoxville to finish it up, with local friends and players," Bailey says. Some of those local players and friends have national credentials, like dobro wizard Rob Ickes. Then there's some jazz guys, like Jamelle Mitchell on sax, Vance Thompson on trumpet, and Taylor Coker on bass. Regulars on the record include Nolan Nevels on drums, Justin Haynes on keyboards, and Mike Seal on electric guitar, plus bassist Nicki Parrott and Jesse Gregory and Sarah Clapp on vocals.
The Knoxville recordings took place at Wild Chorus studio, under the guidance of Scott Minor. "He seems like a pretty smart fellow to me," Bailey says.
There's some brass in the mix, and a lot of jazziness. "It is a little bit jazz," Bailey says of the album, which is mostly original. But it includes two covers often included in a jazz repertoire: "Stardust" and "Over the Rainbow." Also in there is "This Little Light," the traditional spiritual, but with some new tunes and new lyrics. She was inclined to give herself shared songwriting credit for that one, but was talked out of it. Meanwhile, Bailey promises not to be such a stranger. "My youngest son, he's gonna be 4 this year," she says. "The boys are getting bigger, and I'm a little more comfortable about leaving for a little bit." In mid-May, she has shows scheduled in Wisconsin and Minnesota, where she has fans. "I got offers I couldn't turn down."
She hopes to release Ode to Love at WDVX's Meadowlark Festival in June.