Having made some hay in the Americana/folk/singer-songwriter medium, British-born Bobby Long opted, upon relocation to New York City a couple of years ago, to go full-bore on roots and country-inflected rock 'n' roll.
It is, on a much smaller scale, similar to Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones -- and early Beatles and Zeppelin -- bringing American blues music back to America.
"There must be something to the idea of English bands bringing (something American) over and playing it back to you," Long joked.
"I still think I'm coming at it from the standpoint of this Englishman weirdo in America, in this strange country."
How else to explain Long's sounding like he grew up in the dusty Texas desert or the poetic eastern seaboard? Well, his father's love of folk music -- Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Peter Paul & Mary -- coupled with his mother's bent toward electric rock such as the Beatles and T. Rex, made for an interesting blend that led young Long to the music of the Grateful Dead, Tom Petty and the fountainhead of country rock, Gram Parsons.
"I don't know, I'm just into that kind of music," Long told The Beat.
Which in turn helps explain why Long always felt drawn to live in the States -- in NYC, specifically.
"I moved to London when I was 19. I had been playing for a few years, but I just wanted to be the guitar player, to hide behind somebody. I started singing when I realized I was a bit too selfish. I was writing my own songs, so I decided I'd better be the one to sing them.
"In London, I was playing four to five nights a weeks with a group of self-indulgent singer-songwriters who hate each other secretly," Long quipped.
"I knew, when I got the opportunity, I was going to end up in New York."
Two things spurred him on. First, his song Let Me Sign turned up on the soundtrack for the original Twilight film (sung by Robert Pattinson). He welcomed the attention but insisted that the song wasn't representative of what he was writing. Second, he "met a girl." The support of her family has helped Long transition from one side of the Atlantic to the other.
And, as noted earlier, he delved even deeper into American-roots forms. He changed again his modus operandi for his latest album, Wishbone.
"I always want to push myself. I tend to draw on anything emotional that is happening at the time, but I took that and tried to do something I'd never done before, which was to write in 3:50 rock songs. Focusing on riffs and harmonies, saying what I wanted to say and still being personal but doing it in a more concise way."
And, he acknowledged, "I wanted a chance to have the songs played on radio and be heard."
Meantime, the songs are being heard in clubs, as Long has embarked on a headline tour of North America in support of Wishbone.
"I'm really enjoying playing these songs. There's something exciting about having new music (Wishbone has been out about six weeks now) and playing songs for people and hoping that people are going to like it."
By Piet Levy
Austin, Texas, during the week of the South by Southwest music conference is one of the most grueling places for a musician to perform. There are bands playing everywhere downtown, at practically every hour, making it truly tough to stand out.
So Bobby Long did something pretty brave, or perhaps it was stupid: He performed in Austin during SXSW completely alone.
"Next time I would definitely do it with a band," said Long, 27. "But I have this weird confidence from playing on my own there now. Not too many people are playing on their own at South by Southwest, so it makes you stand out in this weird way."
The British-born Long will bring a full band with him when he performs Monday at Turner Hall Ballroom. It's for the best, but Long should again stand out, thanks to the sturdy, bluesy folk-rock tracks on his latest album, "Wishbone," released in February by ATO Records, the label co-founded by Dave Matthews and the home of Alabama Shakes.
"I don't think I've been concise before in my writing," Long said. "I always want to do six-minute songs. This time, I didn't want to tell a story with 15 verses. I wanted to tell a story with four."
Goal reached, but not without a lot of trimming, not just in terms of verses, but songs, too. Long originally wrote 45 songs for consideration for "Wishbone."
"I would write a lot literally between playing festivals and shows," Long said.
He wrote as many as three songs a day. From the initial 45, some never reached maturation; 22 were brought into the studio, and a final 12 were selected.
Of those 12, two stand out for Long. For "Yesterday Yesterday," he penned lyrics different from what he's accustomed to. "For the first time I was singing about what's going on around society and kind of where the world is," he said.
"Not Tonight, Not Today" was different for Long, too, "slightly poppier . . . more like Elliott Smith, and the Beatles, too."
"That was one where I (told my managers), 'This is happening (on the album),' " Long said. "I wasn't saying it because that was the kind of direction I wanted to go into next or that I wanted to explore my pop sensibilities. . . . But there are lots of layers and harmonies, too, that I was really, really happy with and excited to be doing."
IF YOU GO
Who: Bobby Long
When: 8 p.m. Monday
Where: Turner Hall Ballroom, 1040 N. 4th St.
Tickets: $10 at the door, the Pabst and Riverside Theater box offices, (414) 286-3663 and pabsttheater.org.
The Aquarian Weekly
By Robert Gluck
Bobby Long is a folk rock musician from England. Living in New York, he has begun to feel at home. Highly inspired by musicians like Neil Young with his ability to experiment and reinvent his sound, Long’s Wishbone reflects this Americana he has come to admire. “Devil Moon” is the first song on the album, and it notes this change in style. The musicians Long worked with on the album helped him create a heavier rock sound. This change of style can be heard on the previously mentioned “Devil Moon” and “Blood in The Orchard.” Wishbone itself was named after a lyric in the song “Yesterday Yesterday,” which also encompasses this change in direction. Long’s reputation to play the guitar shines on “In Your Way.” His solo near the end of the track displays his ability to pour emotion out of the instrument.
Long’s lyrics on relationships can be best showcased on “She Won’t Leave.” Opposite of this, Long vows to be there for his love in “Help You Mend,” while remnants of his softer side can still be found on “My Parade.” The steel guitar is beautifully used in the background, as well as on “All My Brothers” and “Waiting For Dawn.” These songs focus on this new sound and continue on the upbeat “Not Tonight, Not Today.” Muting is used during the verses to build up to the honest chorus. “Making You Talk” features slow-paced instruments that allow the listener to focus on Long’s gritty vocals. The final song, “To The Light” encompasses the folk and rock sounds explored on the album. Filled with stylistic experimentation, Wishbone is a piece of art, allowing Long to express himself by transcending genres. It’ll be exciting to see what direction Long’s music goes in next.
In A Word: Refreshing
A world away from his start recording songs in his London bedroom by himself, Bobby Long now calls New York City home and sports a much bigger sound. Ever striving to further develop his music, the new record delivers in a big-bad way. Follow downward to listen to more performances by the folk emigrant.
Following the success of A Winter’s Tale, Bobby’s ATO debut, the musician within him wanted to continue to not only grow his writing technique but also the general musicality of what Bobby Long, The Artist, represents. Being a musical scholar at heart and authoring a thesis about the social impact of American folk music, its no surprise that Bobby approached this new project form the intellectual perspective. Spending significant time in his adopted home in NYC brought new light to tunes that he had formerly loved but never truly ‘understood.’ His fascination with the music of Big Star, The Jayhawks, The Mother Hips and Tom Petty took on entire new meanings as his experience with and appreciation of Americana expanded.
Known thus far as an introspective singer-songwriter, Long has done away with all those trappings, making an album that is a cohesive band record. It was through these new experiences Bobby was able to flourish upon his emotions as a songwriter and better incorporate them into a fuller musical sound and create something new… a complete departure. When the writing process was near completion and roughly 40 songs were in the can, Bobby jumped across the country to LA to further round out his process, while recording with acclaimed producer Ted Hutt and some very accomplished studio players such as Mark Stepro (Ben Kweller, Tim Easton) on drums, Chris Morrissey (Ben Kweller, Mason Jennings) on bass, and Rich Hinman (Rosanne Cash, Rhett Miller) on guitar. Developing a strong sense of community and camaraderie with this team he was able to take their time and strategically whittle the repitoire down to a robust 12 songs. Several of which have already found their way into Bobby's top tracks chart.
Listeners and fans will see a different side of Bobby Long, the restless musician always striving to grow and improve his craft while finding new avenues of expression. Wishbone draws from Bobby’s appreciation for the legends like Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Woody Guthrie, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Neil Young, Jeff Buckley and Elliott Smith. Smith’s influence took on a stronger presence as Bobby was fortunate enough to record his tracks on Smith’s guitar and amplifier equipement while in the studio. Bobby granted us a collection of intimate and passionate solo performances in our very own office.
Coming off the festival circuit and seeing warm reception at last year’s Bonnaroo, Bobby has several dates cascading across the US and Canada through the spring.
In Your Way
And here is a throwback treat: Our original recording session with Bobby during the release of A Winters Tale The Bounty of Mary Jane
Find Bobby Long online:
Homepage | Twitter | Facebook
Pick up Wishbone in a number of different formats:
Digital | Vinyl (+DL) | CD
March 15, 2013
Relix Video of "Help You Mend" from the album "Wishbone"
Consequence of Sound
By Erin Carson
UK singer songwriter Bobby Long wrote his college thesis on the impact of American folk music. While the prospect of an academic treatment of a subject matter born of a people and not an institution could feel cold, it’s really a piece of trivia that spotlights Long as a student of his influences. He’s a young guy, and he’s from a long ways away, and he still manages to own the bluesy folk-rock that pervades his sophomore album, Wishbone.
Part of what frames Long as an authentic creator of Americana-infused rock instead of keeping him on the edges of the genre as a mimic is his scratchy, older-than-his-age voice. Long can sell all the heartbreak and blues guitar because he actually sounds as if he’s weathered enough to be able to talk about it. On “All My Brothers”, he sings, “It’s a swift turning clock we travel on,” and it feels like a statement of experience.
Vocals aside, Long also conveys a certain air of drama and angst in his melodies. “Blood in the Orchard” is a good packaging of several of his most characterizing features. The song takes multiple shifts from harmonized guitar lines and chugging bass, to a hooky but sentimental chorus where Long assures a girl, “You’re not a duty of mine, you’re there to walk your own line.” In that vein Long can deliver a tender song like “Help You Mend”, complete with mournful pedal steel and words of encouragement, as well as a more aggressive, guitar-driven track like “Yesterday, Yesterday”.
Wishbone does suffer in the middle section because of a few similar mid-to-down tempo songs. Tracks like “Making You Talk” and “My Parade” clog the album’s forward movement. Still, the takeaway remains– Long’s beyond the classroom.
Essential Tracks: “Blood in the Orchard”, “Help You Mend”
By Thom Jurek
On A Winter Tale, Bobby Long's 2010 ATO debut, he employed the same basic sound he had utilized on his self-released offerings, in particular 2009's Dirty Pond Songs: namely, fingerpicked or strummed acoustic guitars and a simple lonesome harmonica added for texture to deeply introspective songs. Electric guitars appeared, but were used quite sparingly so as not to detract form the desired mood. Wishbone turns that formula on its head. Loud electric guitars, sharp, clipped drums, and stark electric basslines dominate the mix. Acoustic guitars are employed as elements to move a song's narrative along, and are almost never emphasized. Produced by the ever reliable Ted Hutt (Old Crow Medicine Show, Lucero, Gaslight Anthem), Long's 12-song set reveals Neil Young & Crazy Horse as a spiritual influence. Musically and lyrically, Long's songs are tighter than in the past; they don't ramble or drift. Check the taut, brooding rocker "Blood in the Orchard," which begins as a declaration of anger on a single riff, and finds more tender, open spaces in its chorus, while being unrelenting in its accusation. "Devil Moon"'s big drums and urgent guitar intro give way to an easier country-rock feel, and there's more grain in Long's delivery.
The poetry is just as rich, but its tauter lines offer less density imagistically; there's more first-person revelation by his protagonist. That's not to say the lilt is entirely removed on Wishbone. "My Parade" offers a balance of acoustic and electric guitars as Rich Hinman's pedal steel paints the backdrop in a slow, shuffling 4/4. "Help You Mend" is another ballad that borrows heavily from Young's Harvest album in feel. Those familiar with Long's back catalog may have to look at the sleeve twice when "Yesterday Yesterday" commences with its soulful female backing chorus and the strident guitar attack that announces his vocal. "Not Tonight, Not Today" is such a hooky rocker it could have been recorded by Greg Kihn or Matthew Sweet. Wishbone isn't perfect; there are some really clumsy rhymes here -- most glaringly heard in the verses of set closer "To the Light." That said, it is a bracing, refreshing next step, and easily his strongest offering to date. In terms of delivering on focus and creativity, Long succeeds in spades.
The International Review of Music
By Brian Arsenault
So I’ve been working my way through a batch of CDs and think I have just about found enough good stuff for a 2 or 3 album review column. And then I put on Bobby Long’s Wishbone and I go, “Praise the gods of music, Rock Lives!”
Unbridled, unappologized for, unrelenting. I want to yell “Go, Go, Yes, Go” like Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassidy in On the Road confronted with great bop live.
I missed Long’s earlier work which they tell me was kind of folky. I got on to him first through his book of poetry, Losing My Brotherhood. Which I thought was terrific but tended to increase my expectation of an urban singer-songwriter, Paul Simon kind of thing.
Instead I got his driving guitar and a voice that has a little Vetter in it, a little Neil Young in phrasing and melancholy, but is truly his own and in the end sounds a lot like his guitar. I like it.
“She won’t leave and I won’t go.
She won’t ask and I won’t say.”
Intelligent lyrics. Of course, he‘s a poet.
But let’s be true about rock ‘n roll. You don’t have to catch every word, but you do have to be made to move, bounce, tap, shake by that blending of voice, guitar, bass and drums that is essential to the form. The seasoned rhythm section of drummer Pete Stepro and bassist Rich Hinman (who unusually fronts both a rock group and a jazz band) provide sound backing. “Blood in the Orchard” has big rock anthem power. Not the poorly contrived type — think of bands with “Black” (but not Sabbath) in their name. Rather the Cream/Clapton/Hendrix kind.
Bobby Long touches those heights at times on Wishbone. To try to do it all the time is to risk melting wings in the sun, of course. Go there at your peril.
“Blood in the Orchard” and “In Our Way” should get play on good radio and there is some. Good radio, I mean. Most fair sized cities and up have at least one non-formulaic station playing a variety of stuff. Support them. “Support Them!” I want to yell. Like the Dad in “Red Dawn” (the first) screaming “Avenge me, avenge me” into the night. Good movie making. “Making You Talk” may bring Derek and the Dominoes to mind and “Waiting for Dawn” sports a guitar intro reminiscent of Quicksilver’s “Happy Trails” album. Lyrically too. Outlaw life and that sort of thing.
‘Up through the nighttime running wild…”
That’s from “All My Brothers.” The lyric expresses it, the whole song. The lyrics of “To The Light” could have been written by Dylan, at least when he was younger.
“My Parade” is a song poem. You remember Eddie of Eddie and the Cruisers said “words and music” with two fingers entwined. Yeah.
“Stay young in my mind…”
Even if you are
“Wearing the same sad look as me.”
Rock, good rock, still living, helps you do the first even in times of the latter.
* * * * * * * *
- Bobby Long press photo by James Minchin.
By Dan Whitman
I was discussing Bobby Long with my brother last week when he suddenly recalled that he, in fact, went to high school with a Bobby Long. A Bobby Long who not only played guitar but was good at playing guitar. It was enough for us to investigate the coincidence; our fascination, however, was short lived by the fact that we didn’t go to high school in England. Yes, Bobby Long, the musician on ATO Records, is British. The strangest part about it is that I had been listening to Long’s sophomore album, Wishbone, for about a solid week already at that point. Now it’s no secret that British accents do have a tendency to disappear when vocalized in songs. Yet with Long it was more than just the vocals; the music as a whole had an American rock/country/folk vibe to it. Actually, upon my first listens of Wishbone, I was reminded a lot of Cory Chisel, and, well, he’s from Wisconsin.
All origins and locations aside, Long logged countless hours into his follow-up to 2011’s A Winter Tale, and the time and workmanship can be heard on the new record. With that said, Wishbone is a surprisingly dense album. My most familiar Bobby Long song prior to Wishbone was the single “Who Have You Been Loving,” off of A Winter Tale. It’s a somber, yearning tune but with a catchy pop hook. And with Long’s latest album, I thought many of the songs would try to channel that same song format. However, Wishbone’s lead song, “Devil Moon,” quickly establishes a different direction for the record. “Devil Moon” is relatively fast-paced and full of guitar twang; something you can definitely stomp your foot to. And that is just the beginning of Wishbone’s diverse sounds.
“She Won’t Leave” is an thoughtful, melodic track but with a rousing chorus that recalls the beloved ballads of 90’s rock heroes Live and The Counting Crows. The provoking “All My Brothers” plays out like a fight-first country anthem. “Yesterday” dances with that same aggressive energy but takes it to the next level. The track’s uplifting chorus is borderline infectious. Long seems to explore a different side of himself on the menacing tune, and it results in a fresh sound.
Long’s guitar work is at its best on Wishbone ‘s “In Your Way.” The striking, yet soothing, hollow solo at the bridge of the track is absolutely perfect. I wish it carried on for longer or revived again at the end of the song, but nevertheless, it’s a gorgeous, talented segment of the album. Album closer “To The Light” is another standout. The stomping anthem is maybe the most uninhibited moment on Wishbone and it’s another facet I’d like to hear Long explore more of.
Wishbone is an album that will take a few listens to fully appreciate but that’s all just a testament to its makeup. It seems Long is still tinkering with his overall sound and Wishbone shows those signs of continued exploration. Yet with that, he’s unveiling an impressive amount of range and promise. I like the directions Long took on Wishbone and I’m excited to hear what steps he takes next.
Official | Amazon
By Evan Schlansky
British ex-pat Bobby Long wowed critics with his debut album, the gritty, guitar-heavy A Winter Tale. For his followup, Wishbone, the 27-year-old singer-songwriter went back to the well. We asked Long about his approach to songwriting, his favorite lyric on Wishbone and more.
You moved to New York City about four years ago. What do you like about living there, and living in the States?
I really love it. America is so vast and young which is kind of the opposite of Britain so it is a nice change. New York is more inspiring than any place I have ever been to so living there is great for a songwriter like me.
Your thesis at University in London was on the social impact of American folk music. Tell us a bit about it. Was it fun to write and research, or hard?
It was interesting, especially seeing how music tied in with social change like the civil rights movement. The hard element was me being on tour at the same time which made it slightly difficult but it was fun researching it.
You put out a book of poetry. How do you differentiate poetry and lyrics?
I don’t really, but when I was writing the book I didn’t want to think about laying words with music. It gave me a fresh head for when I went back to the music. Essentially they are just different projects but they obviously have vast similarities.
When you’re playing just for fun and no one’s around to listen, what sort of songs do you play?
I play a lot of Sam Cooke and try to play along with Wes Montgomery which I fail at. I just tinker around really with whatever I have heard that morning.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
The Beatles, Randy Newman, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Elliott Smith and Ryan Adams.
What was the first song you ever wrote? Tell us about it.
It was obviously a song that wasn’t particularly great. I think it was about a school teacher or something. It would of been an Elliott smith tip of too.
What’s a song on Wishbone you’re particularly proud of and why?
It’s a song called “Not Tonight, Not Today.” It’s a song that is a little different from my other stuff and a direction I want to pursue. We really went hard at writing specific parts and harmonies and push it into another direction.
What’s a lyric or verse from Wishbone you’re a fan of?
“Guns firing on a ridge down onto a quiet town, wind bellows up smoke to the breakdown in the firing dawn.” It’s from a murder ballad called “Waiting for Dawn”.
Is it easier, or harder to write songs, the more you write?
Both, I think. When you first start writing, everything hits you in the face. When you have been writing for a while, you have to search a bit deeper but yet you have more experience and are better at it. Saying that, I think the more you write the better you become.
Are there any words you love or hate?
I generally really love all words. I hate the word “snog” and I particularly love the word “macabre.”
The most annoying thing about songwriting is…
When you are so close to finishing a song yet you have lost all enthusiasm and all the intensity you need to finish it. You just have to leave it alone and do something else until your fresh again.
What’s a song of yours that’s really touched people?
That’s tough. It’s hard to talk about your own songs. I would probably say a song called “Two Years Old”. It’s about being a soldier at war. Even though I have no idea what it’s like to be a soldier, people seem to relate to it. It’s really nice when that happens.
If you could co-write with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
Probably John Lennon.
Who do you consider an underrated songwriter?
I think most people are underrated but I would probably go with The Mother Hips. I am so in love with their songs. Their songs always surprise you and are heavy but playful and melodic.
What do you consider to be the perfect song (written by somebody else), and why?
I think that “Feels Like Home” by Randy Newman is pretty perfect.