Growing up on Lower Ranchitos Road in Taos, Jennifer Robin had a poster of Paul McCartney hanging in her bedroom closet. This month, with the release of her new recording, The Bird and the Beatles, the jazzy, folky singer/songwriter is bringing her Beatles love affair out of the closet and onto center stage.
The album features covers of 10 Beatles songs that span the Fab Four’s career, and Robin makes these tunes thoroughly and tellingly her own. You may find yourself humming her versions, even if you grew up singing along with the originals.
Backed by Tony Cesarano (guitar), Michael Olivola (bass) and Jeff Sussman (percussion), Robin will bring her Beatles songs and her warm embrace of a voice to the Outpost on Thursday night. She shares the bill with the daring duo Resonance—vocalist Patti Littlefield and tuba player Mark Weaver, who will be joined by drummer Arnaldo Acosta.
Robin’s career got going in Los Angeles in the early ’90s. “I was hell-bent on making it in the business,” she says. She snagged a record deal with Denon/A&M Records for worldwide distribution. “They gave me a nice budget to just record all my own songs. It was like, Yay, I got the candy store!’’ Her first album, Fish Up a Tree, won critical acclaim, and Robin got “wined and dined,” she says.
Her second album, Eye of the Storm (Pony Canyon), distributed in Japan and Southeast Asia, got excellent reviews. But when the Pony Canyon execs told her they didn’t hear the single, Robin decided to start her own label (Risky Robin Records) and take control of how her material and her voice were recorded.
Shortly after the release of her third album, Nonodey, the first on her own label, Robin was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2000, she began an arduous 18 months of treatment.
“It really does change your life,” she says. “It alters your perception of everything. ... In some ways, my relationship with music has deepened and richened, become more important to me on a different level. I love the act of singing more than I ever have and sharing it with people and also carrying this message of, You can have cancer and be creative and have a life.”
The cancer went into remission but returned with a vengeance seven years later. Her fourth album, the remarkable Lemonade, recounts her ongoing struggle with the disease and other issues, and the hard-won peace she’s taken from that. “Something shifted in me at that time and helped me handle everything that came up,” she says. “I have found a spiritual life.”
New Mexico helped her find that life when she returned here in 2009. She talks about rediscovering comforting sensations from her childhood: the sound of the wind rattling the cottonwood leaves and the smell right after it rains.
She made four trips to Los Angeles, the last one this spring, to complete the recording and mixing of her Beatles album with her trusted L.A. sidemen, Riner Scivally (guitars), Warren Giancaterino (basses, programming and keyboards), Frank Marsico (harmonica and marimba) and Jasper Dutz (soprano sax).
She had to make one big sacrifice during the process: “I had to stop listening to The Beatles because I didn’t want to be too affected by the original versions,” she says. “It had to come from really deep inside of me.”
Robin finds unsuspected resonances in songs that you thought you knew well, and she delivers her spare and spacious arrangements in a voice that is warm and pure and liberating.
“The great thing about music is that it is a transcendent experience. I’m not aware of the pain when I’m singing,” she says. Her listeners are not aware of theirs, either.