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Monday, August 17, 2009

Review: Robbie Greig – Songman In India

Robbie Greig – Songman In India
2009, Robbie Greig

Melbourne, Australia’s Robbie Greig is an old-school troubadour, using music to illuminate tales about people, places and the truths of life. He is also a highly decorated performer, with awards from the Australia Council, The Australian Songwriters Association and 3RRR. For his ninth studio album, Songman In India, Greig digs into the story of a tragic fire that occurred in Varkala Beach, Kerala, South India. Greig tells the tales of some of the survivors, and the hardships they faced from their environment and even their elected officials. Greig calls on some of the finest names in World Music in Melbourne, including Howard Cairns, Dene Ford, Michael Jordan, Sandro Donatim, Rodney Waterman, Kavisha Mazzella and Raju Sharma. All of this is intermixed with live sounds from Varkala Beach.

Songman In India opens with A Varkala Tale, which sets place and time for the listener. You are introduced to Varkala in terms of the fire that stole homes and businesses from many of the residents there; a woman from Maine who helped organize the relief efforts and the general perspective of Greig. The song has a soothing, story-teller quality to it that is accentuated by an other-worldly recorder solo and a recording of a flute solo done at the live benefit on the beach that the song references. Mangu introduces one of the individuals who lost his home and business in the fire and details the problems he encountered from local politicos in trying to rebuild. The suggestion of heavy corruption hangs in the air here, although Greig never quite comes out and makes the accusation. One gets the impression that people’s homes and lives may have been burned to make room for commercial development.

Diddy-wah is the best song on the disc; Greig tells about making new friends and breaking down barriers, all revolving around what I presume to be an old Bo Diddley song. At Varkala Beach sounds like a 1930’s Jazz tune, complete with Barre chords and a vocal style that would sound appropriate coming out of a vintage tube radio. Reckless is a musical parable based loosely on the “grass is always greener” premise. A society is forced from their home, which they like, and find paradise. After a time they are forced back to their homeland, but it’s never the same. The song is all about being happy with what you have, and how human nature never quite allows that to be. The song is very well written, with a very subtle Reggae flavor. Venu’s Theme/Meeting On The Beach documents the problems with trying to make important decisions in the middle of a tropical paradise; where serious thought drifts with the sunshine and breeze.

Songman In India finds Greig pondering Indian cultures in contrast to those of the Indigenous Peoples of Australia. The song could easily reference First Nations from all over the world, but the focus here is on the events Greig lived through in Kerala and how the people of that Utopian land touched him. Greig closes out with Song For The Muse, an instrumental good by to Varkala that seems to capture the gentle nature of the ocean breeze.

Robbie Greig tells a sincere if sometimes disconnected tale of a tragedy in Varkala and the trials and tribulations that followed for the people of that land. Songman In India is pure troubadour material; using truth, humor and allegory to inform and enlighten, and perhaps even leave you thinking about the big world around you when it’s done. Greig’s manner is very easy-going on the disc; he refers to his passionate ideas in song here but I never quite got that in the emotional content of the songs presented on Songman In India. Greig seems to prefer an almost Bruce Cockburn-like dispassionate representation of events, people and places that runs counter to the words he sings. Songman In India is a good listen, but the heart that went into the writing doesn’t always come across in the performance.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Robbie Greig at I could find no online outlets for Songman In India. I recommend you contact Robbie Greig through his MySpace page if you’d like to purchase one.

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