taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

reviews of local & state music CDs


After more than a year in the making, the debut album for Sam Robinson’s Five Gallon Groove is finally available and it’s been well worth the wait. Though it’s a bit abbreviated at eight tracks, the star-studded, self-titled disc is a tour of Southern rock, jazz and blues through the sweltering guitar of one of Winston-Salem’s most unsung talents.

The album opens with a heavy dose of Cajun-spiced mouth harp by Mike Wesolowski on “I Got It Right,” a consummate blues-tinged lyrical boast by former Old Stone Revue-er Brandon Knox. Knox has reason for his buoyancy, particularly with this cast of rock luminaries playing behind him. Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle lays down a cool rock rhythm alongside a heady groove by Allman Brothers Band bassist Oteil Burbridge, but it’s the lead trading by Robinson and Burbridge brother Kofi that brings a similar spirit to this track that’s found on the recent Booker T. release Potato Hole. Robinson wear’s his Allman influence on his sleeve on the electric intro to the spirited “Soaking Up the Rain,” where he also pulls acoustic double-duty. Gospel beat maker Calvin Napper sits in the drum chair here and ups the pace considerably alongside percussionist Rusty Good, but it’s the multi-talented

Kofi Burbridge that stands out with his stirring flute, piano and Hammond B3 additions. Robinson shows his stylistic versatility on “Memoria,” a highly emotive instrumental ballad that gradually picks up in aggression, moving from a sense of subtle melancholy to fiery belligerence. The album is consistent in its influences, but there are a few curves thrown. “Liquor Store” is the first of those, where Robinson assumes lead vocals and with a mischievous tenor, parlays hard-living overtop Andrew Lazare’s bouncy bass groove with his mischievous tenor, but it’s the appearance of rapper Willis where the album takes its greatest risk. Though he molds his contribution to the album’s bluesy format, the verses might have made more sense with a larger lyrical share rather than a simple guest spot. Robinson downshifts back into his traditional blues influences with “Crazy Woman Blues,” as Knox bemoans his hard-partying relation to the kindred spirit of Robinson’s mournful wail. Five Gallon Groove spins into Widespread Panic and Outformation territory with the made-for-jamming “Guess You Won’t” and “Solid Ground.” Robinson packs the licks into every empty space while producer Bill Stevens’ punchy organ provides a perfectly unobtrusive counterpoint. There’s a lot to hear in such a short release, but for a debut effort Robinson has indeed set the bar high.


Five Gallon Groove will perform at Littlejohn’s Tavern on Saturday, Feb. 27.

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