Hearing Ric Robertson for the first time, you’ll be forgiven if John Prine is the first name that comes to mind. Robertson’s voice has the same soft Southern burr as Prine’s, the same Zen acceptance of humanity’s failings, and, most importantly, the same sense of playfulness in the music. There’s a bit of Willie Nelson in there too, not just from all the smoke in the air, but from the colliding elements of jazz, funk, and country. Robertson’s an American original, pulling influences from the greats that came before, but wholly responsible for creating his own creative universe. When he’s not writing songs or playing music, his polymath personality fills time learning claymation, filmmaking, building puppets, learning pedal steel… He’s relentlessly creative, the musician’s musician, as testified by the fact that he’s continuously in-demand as a touring bandmate, playing with everyone from Rhiannon Giddens to The Wood Brothers. A guest list this large and varied is a testament to Robertson’s easygoing musicianship. He’s as comfortable backing up another artist onstage as he is leading his own band, and throughout he anchors his creativity in a sense of playful collaboration.
His new album, Carolina Child, out now on Free Dirt Records, is Robertson’s break-out moment, a fully-fledged multiverse of madcap ideas and creative anarchy. The album was produced by Dan Molad of Lucius, and features Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig from Lucius plus a whole host of Robertson’s friends, colleagues, and picking partners, drawn from all over the US: Dori Freeman and Nick Falk from Galax, VA, Gina Leslie from New Orleans, Sam Fribush of Greensboro, NC, Alex Hargreaves (Steve Martin, Kacey Musgraves) and Eddie Barbash (Jon Batiste) from Brooklyn, Oliver Wood of The Wood Brothers, Kai Welch, Logan Ledger, and Nate Leath (Sierra Ferrell) from Nashville. As a songwriter, Robertson takes his inspiration from the fragility of our inner lives, but also from the small moments packed with meaning that surround us. This is John Prine by way of New Orleans, Harry Nilsson in a Nudie suit, a stoned Dr. John lost in Nashville, Bill Monroe on mushrooms listening to Bessie Smith. Step into his boundlessly creative multi-verse and you’ll find nothing short of American songbook excellence.