Popular local Key West singer/songwriter Tony Roberts’ thirteenth recorded album, ‘Chasing the Sun’ is on the verge of being released. Roberts spent a few years writing over 40 songs in preparation for this record. After a lot of travel, inspiration, and hard work, Tony decided to narrow the set list down to 14 tracks (plus one bonus track).
“It was so much work,” says Roberts. “Songs were written all over the country and Barbados. I was really worried that it was too diverse. It's been a few years now since my last cd so I'm super stoked to get this album out! It was produced by Ian Shaw and features some of Key West's finest musicians as well as members of my old band in Boston… and I really think it's one of my best… I can't wait to share it with all of you.”
The diversity of the record is just right. Coupled with the various talented musicians playing their parts, the diversity of the songs makes ‘Chasing the Sun’ such a unique album.
Also, playing a significant role in what is sure to be a very well received album is the brilliant work of producer Ian Shaw. Shaw, who has produced Bill Blue’s ‘Mojolation’, Matt Backer’s ‘Get Backer’ and several other fantastic records, certainly added his expertise on ‘Chasing the Sun’.
“Ian did a really good job of tying it all together,” says Roberts.
The respect between artist and producer is mutual. “I really enjoyed making this record with Tony.” says Shaw. “It was a collaborative effort probably over 9 months, beginning with several sit-downs over coffee where we listened to material and discussed which songs should be on the album, what songs were already recorded and what songs we needed to do from scratch. Also what direction musically we were going in and how the overall album might sound. We ended up with 14 songs and our plan was always to keep it simple and fresh sounding, whilst as musically diverse as possible.”
Roberts is a unique songwriter and vocalist. His humility may be the only thing to outweigh his talent as a songwriter. Shaw took notice to this immediately.“I really like Tony's voice. His style is all about attitude and feeling, rather than getting every note bang in tune. It's a vibe.” says Shaw. “Like Bob Dylan, he's a songwriter whose songs tell a story, take you on a journey or have a motivational, uplifting message. He's also incredibly prolific and it was hard to choose 'just' 14 songs to be on the record.”
Aside from Roberts’ obvious talent as a vocalist and lyricist as the backbone on this album, Roberts asked several talented musicians to take part in the recording of ‘Chasing the Sun’. He reached into the talent rich Key West scene for help from several, as well as diving into his past by asking some of his former Boston area band mates to take part. They were all more than happy to participate.
“It was such an honor to be asked to be a part of this project. I'm particularly pleased with how my background vocals turned out.” says beloved Key West bassist and vocalist Claire Finley. “I am a huge fan of Tony's music and this album really showcases his talents.” Finley appears on several tracks as both a bassist and a vocalist. Perhaps most notable is the track “Days Go By”, a duet song with Roberts.
Tony’s former band mates from his years spent as a singer/songwriter in the Boston area are also featured on several tracks.
“I've been playing with Tony since 2003. We have an uncommon musical connection that's almost spiritual in nature.” says Boston based drummer John Dorizzi. “By that I mean, when Tony and I are playing together, I totally understand where he's going musically and we envision the same thing. I've seen Tony's music evolve over the last 13 years, always moving towards a more personal perspective.”
Dorizzi also cited the work done by Boston area bassist David An as a key part of Tony’s record. “Dave An is an integral part as well. His bass playing melds with Tony and me in just the same way. I almost never cut bass and drums at the same time in the studio these days.” Dorizzi says. “But with Dave we always cut them together because we have this "magic vibe". Like when we tracked the bass and drums for the song "Rise" (from Tony's 2008 CD I Give You the Sky), it was live and one take.”
Much of ‘Chasing the Sun’ was recorded in the same fashion. Sort of a Live in studio approach was taken. I was lucky enough to be invited to sit in and observe for one of the recording sessions for this album. This particular day featured Claire Finley (bass/vocals). Ericson Holt (keys/organ), and Joey Marchiano (drums) joining Roberts, engineer Drew Gunning, and Producer Ian Shaw in The Ramble Room Studios. This was an experience that this music lover will not soon forget. Shaw directed the quartet of musicians as they basically recorded several of the tracks Live in studio, only stopping to perhaps discuss a slight change for another Live take.
‘Chasing the Sun’ is a special record. I am lucky enough that Tony handed me a copy to listen to and asked me to review well before the upcoming release. I have listened several times over, a few times just casually and a few times I listened intently and took notes. So, I now offer a track by track review of this incredible album.
The album starts off with a track titled “Let the Haters Hate”. The song features Dorizzi on drums, Finley on bass, Holt on Keys, and talented Key West guitarist Rick Fusco playing lead. “Let the Haters Hate” has an Island vibe musically. It is a classic Roberts song in that it carries a positive message in the face of life’s struggles and judgement from others. Much like Roberts’ fan favorite “Rise”, this song inspires the listener to keep fighting life’s battles, “Just keep that smile on your face. Let the haters hate.”
Track two is “Hold Out Your Hand” featuring Finley (bass), Holt (keys), Key West’s Joey Marchiano (drums), and two international artists in England’s Mary Cassidy (vocals) and Matt Backer (guitar). Backer, born in New Orleans now residing in England, is a brilliant and accomplished musician having worked with many great musicians including Joe Cocker and Steve Winwood. There are many fantastic tracks on this record. But, if I was forced to pick a favorite, this one would be it. “Hold Out Your Hand” is a funky and gritty Rock tune about walking through fear and anxiety, perhaps mostly as they relate to love. This song, in my opinion, will be a big radio hit.
“Anza Borrego” is the third track. It features Dorizzi (drums), An (bass), Shaw (percussion), Key West/Chilean virtuoso Rolando Rojas (guitar), and Samantha Waite (vocals). Waite has appeared on several of Roberts’ previous recordings and is the backing vocalist on his smash hit ‘Rise”. Roberts loves to travel and is an avid surfer and has travelled all over to catch waves and find inspiration for his writing. Anza Borrego is located near San Diego in Southern California. This particular song has a nice laid back, Latin feel to it, a calming vibe. Rojas’ guitar work is fantastic. The track is perhaps about missing a former lover or even perhaps a farewell to one. This song is as beautiful as Anza Borrego and I can only assume that feel comes directly from inspiration Roberts felt while there.
The fourth track is titled “Take Me To The Blue”. It features Backer (harmonica), Shaw (percussion), and Joe Clapp, who runs the Boston recording studio where Roberts has done much recording, on cigar box guitar. This song has an old school Blues feel, thanks especially to the unique sound of Clapp’s work on the cigar box guitar. It addresses the struggle of finding oneself while finding one’s way through life.
“Days Go By”, the fifth track, is a duet with Claire Finley. It features Dorizzi (drums), An (bass), Finley (vocals), Cassidy (vocals), and two popular Key West musicians Chris Thomas (keys) and Tony ‘Baltimore’ Durante (guitar). This track certainly has a noticeable Island vibe. This is a classic Roberts song. The story is of a lost or failed love. Perhaps the message is regret in not making a better effort? There certainly is a strong tone of reminiscing and the struggle to move on. This is certainly one of those songs with which most of the rest of us can identify.
Track six, “Little Bird Blues” deserves mention as contender for my personal favorite. It features Backer (guitar), Marchiano (drums), Finley (bass), Holt (keys), and Cassidy (vocals). This bluesy number draws its inspiration from the breakup of a relationship. Perhaps the ‘Little Bird’ was stolen by another? Unfortunately, for the Little Bird, that didn’t work out well. It’s a clever metaphor for being held captive in a relationship with overtones of what might have been.
“Juke Joint Queen” is the seventh track on ‘Chasing the Sun’. The song features Backer (guitar), Marchiano (drums), Finley (bass), and Holt (keys). This is the sexy dance vibe track of the record. The subject is a mysterious, sexy gal who dances on the floor during a live show. We’re all familiar with the type, taking over the dance floor and drawing all attention from the crowd and singer alike. She’s irresistible and the singer falls into the trap. However, he feels no regrets.
Song number eight is “Come On Down”, featuring Dorizzi (drums), An (bass), Finley (vocals), and Rojas (guitar). A classic walking Blues tune, this track has a groovy, almost hypnotic vibe. “Come On Down” is about making a new start in a new relationship. The new spark is almost a saving grace, leaving everything and everyone previous behind and being together. It’s the dream of the ultimate relationship for a new couple where nothing else matters but the two of them.
Track nine is titled “She Takes Me To Heaven”. It features Finley (vocals), Fusco (guitar), Shaw (percussion), and Backer (harmonica). This uplifting and light vibe song is warm and inviting. The song is a classic positive, inspirational Roberts tune about drawing strength from the love of another, even if that person moves on out of your life.
“Desdemona” is the title of track number ten. This is another that deserves mention as a contender for my personal favorite. The simplest song, musically, on the album, it features only Roberts (vocals) and Rojas on acoustic guitar. A beautifully written song, this track showcases the undeniable talent of Rojas as a classical guitar virtuoso. The message is of a lost love that is never truly lost. It is never ending. It’s beautifully haunting through the brilliance of both the lyrics and the guitar work. This one is a gem.
The eleventh song is called “Pocket Full Of Nothing”. It features Backer (guitar), Marchiano (drums), Finley (bass), Holt (keys), and Shaw (percussion). Roberts took a trip into the bayous of Mississippi for inspiration. He wrote this song while staying in Clarksdale, MS. Not surprisingly, the song takes on the old school Blues vibe associated with those Bayou Blues. The song is a true story inspired by a woman who left him for another man. A classic Blues number, “Pocket Full Of Nothing” is all about being left broken hearted, down trodden, hurting, and empty.
The twelfth track is “Forever & A Day”. The song features Marchiano (drums), Backer (guitar),Finley (bass), Holt (keys), and Shaw (percussion). This is a gritty and emotional song about a love that isn’t working out. There is always that hope that patience may result in a rekindled love. The pain of waiting is difficult. Believing in the hope is painful, but worth it, even if it means forever.
“Happily Ever After” is song number thirteen. The track features Dorizzi (drums), Finley (vocals), Holt (keys), Tomas (keys), and Shaw (percussion). This is another positive and warm song about being rescued from a broken heart by another. This is a touching love song that would make any woman giddy to be the inspiration. The message is clear that life is not perfect, yet when together, it is as perfect as it can get.
Track number fourteen, “Chasing The Sun” is the title track from the album. It features Dorizzi (drums), Shaw (percussion), and Key West and National Blues guitar legend Bill Blue on slide guitar. This is another wonderful message of fighting through life’s struggles. Life may have its ups and downs, but in the end it is beautiful. The message to face each day’s challenges and not look back is the great reminder we can all use from time to time. Life keeps going. So should your plight because “it takes a lifetime to chase the sun”.
The fifteenth and final track, “Rise” is a bonus track. This is a live recording of Tony’s unforgettable performance of his popular song at The Sunday Ramble series that is held at The Key West Theatre. Surrounded by the All Star Ramble Band featuring Marchiano (drums), Finley (bass/vocals), Holt (keys), Durante (rhythm guitar), Robyn Whitehead (vocals), and legendary Key West musicians Jeff Clark (melodica/vocals), Nick Norman (vocals) and The Great Caffeine Carl Wagoner (lead guitar), Roberts shines as a gracious and humble fan favorite. I was in attendance and this is one performance I will never forget. Roberts brought down the house with this performance. This epic performance is still talked about by music lovers around Key West. And now, it is recorded for eternity as the bonus track on this album.
Tony Roberts’ ‘Chasing the Sun’ is a very special album. I have been a fan for a long time now. Roberts’ songwriting takes a backseat to no one in the world of music. This album showcases his brilliance as an artist and songwriter. There have been a number of phenomenal albums to come out of the Key West music scene including such gems as Bill Blue’s ‘Mojolation’, Anthony Picone’s ‘The Highest I’ve Ever Been’, Nick Norman’s ‘Hey Cheater’, and Jeff Clark’s ‘The Riddum Tree’. In my opinion, ‘Chasing the Sun’ deserves mention alongside each of those records as one of the absolute best to ever come out of the incredibly talented Key West music scene.
This record is Roberts’ best effort thus far, which speaks volumes because he has released several gems. Roberts should be proud of his work here and any music lover from here to Barbados should be chomping at the bit to grab their own copy as soon as it is released. Congratulations on a superior album, Tony.