Independent release, 2011
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/03/2011
Sometimes cover art is frivolous decoration; sometimes it’s a glimpse into the very heart of the music you’re about to hear. The cover of Robbie Gil’s Save Yourself features old-time-playbill-styled lettering with an illustration of a worn and weary man struggling to escape from inside a bottle.
That may sound a tad melodramatic… but only until you hear the music it goes with.
It takes less than a minute’s time for the listener to get a handle on Robbie Gil’s musical persona; take 30 percent Marc Cohn piano-based insightful introspection, add 30 percent Joe Cocker whiskey-voiced charisma, pack in 30 percent Meat Loaf yes-I-will-too-make-the-rafters-shake delivery, and sprinkle with 10 percent pure Broadway showmanship, and you’ve got 100 percent of soul-baring, gravel-voiced, over-the-top, utterly sincere Robbie Gil.
The dense yet raw narratives of Save Yourself, Gil’s second full-length CD, are filled with recriminations, regrets, promises to change and visions of a brighter tomorrow somewhere beyond the horizon. This album—whose songs blend one into another like the soundtrack to a musical—feels at times like an alcoholic’s never-ending lament of rationalizations, justifications and passionate yet inherently suspect promises. And, it charms. (No, really.)
Opener “Save Yourself” doesn’t so much begin as continue, seeming to start in the middle of the melody line and bringing Gil’s voice to the forefront in a matter of seconds with these instantly memorable lyrics: “When you march into battle, would you fight for the other side / Would you swear on a big stack of bibles with all of your lies / Would you steal from the desperate, would you give to a thief / Would you lie to yourself, ‘til you made it belief / Well, I would -- I’m no good, I’m no good, I’m no good / Save yourself, ‘cause I’m not what you think I am…”
From there it’s a cascade of Gil and more Gil, the man under the white-hot spotlight mixing the piano-based melodic sense of Cohn, the blues-shouter vocal stylings of Cocker, and the sky-large emotional release of a Broadway show-stopper. Oh, he might coil it up for a moment to milk the dramatic tension of more restrained numbers like “One Of These Days” or “Shining In The Sun,” but it’s only a matter of time/verses before he’s busting loose again. (And speaking of Cocker, when Gil delivers “Come Home,” a terrific duet with silken-voiced Sarah Versprille, the contrasting harmonies and big finish almost inevitably inspire visions of Richard Gere and Debra Winger making their big exit to the swelling strains of Cocker and Jennifer Warnes lifting the audience “Up Where You Belong.” Hey, it was a moment… )
What carries this album in the end—almost in spite of Gil’s at times over-the-top delivery—is the rich poetry and insight of his lyrics. “I have been my own worst enemy / Sayin’ no to what was good for me / Now the only thing left to say is yes” is just one smartly crafted triplet from the gently anthemic “Ready As I’ll Ever Be”; “It’s hard to be noble when you know that you’re not” goes one particularly tart line from its companion “Hard To Be Normal.”
“Collide (This Ain’t Right)” is built around one of those ageless melodies that feels familiar even as Gil nearly blots it out with his almost operatic delivery. Twin closers “Everywhere But Here” and “Valentine” carry this undercurrent of bombast to its logical conclusion, dead-serious romantic tunes with a distinct grandiosity to them. From the latter: “I’ll carry you with me, wherever I go / And I’ll keep holdin’ on, I don’t know how to let go / And you gave up on me, but I won’t give up on you / I’m still not ready to start serenadin’ somebody new / Guess I’ll keep waitin’ for you to come through…”
Save Yourself is nothing if not melodramatic, performed with an outsized Broadway flair that at moments you almost want to laugh at—except you couldn’t possibly, because Gil is so damn committed and sincere, and beneath that huge delivery, his lyrics are so compellingly rendered. Whatever your individual reaction may be to his very distinct musical approach, Robbie Gil believes in what he’s doing so deeply that it simply forces the listener to believe, too. He gives these tunes 110 percent, and the results are both undeniable and undeniably impressive.