Robbie McIntosh: press/reviews
Rock & Roll isn't a musical style. It's an attitude.
In an industry that rewards and celebrates the crass and crud, Robbie McIntosh has stood pretty much alone in his refusal to sell out to the highest hype.
Instead of playing the game, he plays guitar with a zeal and a passion without compromise. Whether on the Live Aid stage or a Chicago blues bar or in many of the world's largest stadia, his playing always excites and reminds all of us who envy with awe that that was what we dreamed to be before we mortgaged up our lives.
("Emotional Bends" sleeve notes)
The return of the Mac
It's always hard to write objectively about people you know.
It becomes even harder when the people in question are responsible for producing something so faultless that objectivity is rendered largely redundant.
Such is the case with Emotional Bends, the fIrst album proper by The Robbie McIntosh Band.
As many of you are probably aware, Robbie has lived in Weymouth for the past 13 years or so, during which time he has fulfilled lengthy high-profile stints with The Pretenders and Paul McCartney; as well as playing on more sessions than you could feasibly shake any number of sticks at.
First things first: The fundamental, inescapable fact is that, in terms of chops, passion and taste in equal measure, there isn't another guitarist to touch him - as anyone who has ever been completely and utterly gobsmacked by his playing (whether in a stadium or a pub) will attest.
Ergo, it should come as no surprise that Emotional Bends is, on its most basic level, a guitar junkie's delight - simply brimming with a mind-boggling succession of effortlessly undemonstrative, quietly uncanny solos, fluid, wristy bottleneck lines and elegant, deceptively simple chinese puzzle riffs.
Gratifyingly, there's a great deal more to the album than just bashful virtuosity.
Crucially, the masterful ensemble playing services the songs and not vice-versa - and the songs themselves have turned out to be 12 big-hearted little gems of understatement. integrity and maturity.
Overall, the band's tight-but-loose feel over a melodic blues/country template suggests Little Village or a less coarse-grained NRBQ, particularly on Cheque Book And Pen, Cactus Juice and the title track, all songs which possess the same rueful swagger which was Al Anderson's stock-in-trade.
Elsewhere, Simple Thing calls to mind the drily direct soul-stirring of an Al Green or a Donnie Hathaway, while the airy, spacious chords of Roll Away and Joe And Me hint at the pure pop instincts of a long-standing Todd Rundgren fan.
The album's opener, Scarecrow, could even be a distant cousin of Wild Wood by Paul Weller... and hard is the heart which doesn't snap clean in half at Dadi, the album's instrumental closing track.
The performances throughout are impeccable, restrained and unobtrusively on-the-money.
If you listen extra hard, you'll occasionally catch Pino Palladino executing a casually outrageous bass run; or drummer Paul Beavis going for a characteristically Jim Keltneresque reverse-logic fill.
Mind you, harmonica supremo Mark Feltham's rippling, raspy lines periodically poke through the mix to great effect, and Melvin Duffy's gorgeous, luminous pedal steel solo on Joe And Me is the startling aural equivalent of a sunrise.
Oh yes - and Robbie's voice, for which he has surprisingly received little or no credit in the past, matches an appealingly down-home, dustbowl patina to flawless pitching.
So there you have it.
For what it sets out to achieve, Emotional Bends is well-nigh impossible to fault, try as one might with one's ill-fitting reviewer's hat on.
The album is released on June 1, and I'm unhesitatingly recommending it to anyone with ears...
Dorset Echo, Saturday April 24 1999
Acclaimed sideman to the stars steps out on his own in bluesy mode.
To obviate any possibility of confusion, however remote, this is not the Average White Band drummer who died in 1974 of a heroin overdose. This is the other Robbie McIntosh, the vibrantly alive one who has spiced up tour stages alongside McCartney and The Pretenders, and added flashes of tasty blues-inflected axemanship to albums by Phil Collins, Cher, Celine Dion and others. In the solid company of a gang of grizzled fellow-travellers that includes Pino Palladino on bass and Paul Beavis on drums, McIntosh delivers a dozen of his own songs that will tickle the taste buds of anybody who wished Dire Straits could have been just a little less predictable and a little harder-edged. Although blues and R&B are the musical modes he most often adopts, his lyrics draw from a wider pool of intelligent minstrelsy, giving the album an appeal to an audience beyond those who will appreciate it mainly for its spiffy musical chops.
Mojo, June 1999
Robbie McIntosh is a proper guitar player. A real, proper guitar player who's learned - through stints with The Pretenders and Paul McCartney, and sessions including Cher and George Martin - that being good is just as much about what you don't play.
'Emotional Bends' comprises 12 self-penned songs that doff a variety of caps to his chief influences: Ry Cooder, Little Feat and Marcel Dadi to name just three. Aided by Pino Palladino on bass, Mark Feltham on harmonica, Melvin Duffy on pedal steel and Paul Beavis on drums, it's a tonally diverse offering which always manages to stay on the right side of musical - enough tasty guitar to keep us happy, while not sacrificing any integrity for that one note too many. And he can sing, too. Great stuff. You can catch Robbie in next month's issue when Guitarist brings you an exclusive interview...
Guitarist, June 1999
Ex-Pretender and Paul McCartney guitarist's winning solo debut.
The natural presumption is pub rock, but selflessly served by session greats Mark Feltham (harmonica) and Pino Palladino (bass), every detail of Emotional Bends is cool, hard and restrained, including McIntosh's voice, a high keening affair which impressively holds the line between harsh wit and melancholy which his songwriting demands. Finely wrought pieces like Scarecrow, Hang Me On The Line, Roll Away and Good Punch line, fetching of tune and insouciantly sustained of metaphorical lyric, step lightly between R&B and country rock. A cracker from couplets to cadenzas then. Excellent news that McIntosh's light and bushel have at last parted company.
Q, July 1999
After many years spent as a sideman to some of the biggest names in the biz - Chrissie Hynde and Paul McCartney included - Robbie McIntosh has finally found the time to record an album of his solo material. And that's a good thing. A very good thing. There's an illustration of almost every style of music on this album - from the acoustic blues of Scarecrow to the downright pop of Joe & Me. Oh, and one more thing, for a guitarist, he's got a terrific voice.
Total Guitar, November 1999
Guitarist Robbie McIntosh is no stranger to the world of pop. He spent five years playing with the Pretenders and six years with Paul McCartney. In the album department, this guitarist's guitarist has played alongside the likes of Cher, Celine Dion, Annie Lennox, and Phil Collins. For this, his rock-solid debut, McIntosh has assembled a tight band (bassist Pino Palladino, pedal steel guitarist Melvin Duffy, drummer Paul Beavis, and Mark Feltham on harmonica). Primarily recorded live, with very few overdubs, "Emotional Bends" traverses Chicago blues, Texas swing, Southern roots, and classic-sounding rock. McIntosh-penned tracks like the barroom-hued "Cactus Juice", the John Mellencamp-tinged "Oh Judy", and the rousing title track bristle with a startling honesty - both lyrically and musically - not found on too many contemporary pop/rock recordings.
Billboard, 22 January 2000
Robbie McIntosh is one of the world's best guitar players, and also one of its most incompetent human beings, as anyone who has watched him trying to buy a shirt will tell you.
We first met years ago when he walked up to me in a bar and said that one of his best friends knew my grandmother very well. Good opening. It was Wix he was talking about, or Paul Wickens as I knew him when we had the same piano teacher at school. Robbie and Wix were both in Paul McCartney's band at this time (no, not that one).
Before that, Robbie had been lead guitarist in The Pretenders, and has also played for Talk Talk, Tears for Fears, Paul Young and even Cher. When he's not jetting round the world playing vast stadiums he tends to sit at home in Dorset looking after his goats and chickens, and tinkering. Actually, let me correct that last sentence. When he's not jetting round the world playing vast stadiums he tends to sit at home in Dorset being looked after by his goats and chickens, and tinkering.
I asked him what he'd been tinkering at, and he showed me. I should mention at this point that I am myself a passionate, though not very good, acoustic guitarist, so Robbie decided to play me some of the acoustic guitar pieces he'd been tinkering with down in Dorset.
I was transfixed. It was some of the most mesmerising music I'd heard in years. Most of the pieces were original, but some of them were arrangements of old folk tunes, Elvis Presley, Chopin, blues... What they all shared was an apparently simple melodic surface with a wonderfully rich internal life of harmony and counterpoint, which meant that each piece grew and grew in your mind with every listening. It's technically complex, but there's no showing off. All the technique is there just to serve the music. It's not folk, it's not jazz, it's not pop, it's not classical, it's just pure, pure music. The real stuff. Complex. Simple. Breathtaking.
I played the tapes Robbie gave me incessantly, and it quickly became one of my favourite-ever albums. People would sit in my car and say 'What is this?' Over a period of years I gradually coaxed and nudged Robbie into making an actual CD of it and letting my company, The Digital Village, release it. It took an astonishingly long time, but it is astonishingly good. The reasons for both of these things are contained in my opening paragraph.
There's one more thing I should add. Robbie McIntosh is one of the nicest people in the world.
Santa Barbara 1999
("Unsung" sleeve notes)