Recorded mostly in a six-day session in Nashville earlier this year, Robyn Hitchcock's latest album, Spooked (Yep Roc), pairs the former Soft Boys songsmith with alt-country couple Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Fittingly, it's his most American-sounding effort--an acoustic collection of backwoods country, soothing gospel, and mountain soul that still manages to include references to typically Hitchcockian obsessions like ghouls, goblins, foodstuffs, and fungi. It'd be wrong to cast the album as a complete departure--I Often Dream of Trains (1984) and Eye (1990) traipsed through similarly unplugged territory--but the new songs rely less on Hitchcock's usual touchstones, like the cracked psychedelia of Syd Barrett and the free-range folk of the Incredible String Band. Spooked is what Hitchcock might've sounded like had he emerged from the cotton belt instead of Cambridge, with Welch and Rawlings as his guides. The album's not flawless, but he convincingly inhabits American roots music on its highlights: the exquisite "Television," the bottleneck blues of "Demons and Fiends," the winsome "English Girl," and a touching reading of Dylan's "Tryin' to Get to Heaven." Even during the weaker moments Welch and Rawlings's simple, subtle picking remains unassailably beautiful, carrying the tracks when Hitchcock's slippery rhymes and twisted humor miss the mark. Hitchcock performs without them here; Steve Frisbie opens. Saturday 11/6, 7 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, sold out.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jillian Edelstein.