Rob Huffman,
Tone Without Tension
(independent, 2006)

Rob Huffman, a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist from New England, offers a varied feast on his CD Tone Without Tension. There are some standard sounding Celtic tracks, a few old-time bluegrass tunes, a few tongue-in-cheek selections and even a country piece or two. What he lacks in vocal talent, Rob makes up with superb playing skills, an entertaining presentation and some great backup.

"Swinging on a Gate/Grab a Root & Growl" comprise a fast-paced jig/reel set you would associate with the cover art for the CD, which I believe portrays Rob in old-style monk robes performing the duties of a scribe. This particular track starts off with some expert guitar playing before being joined by the flute. These two instruments complement each other in ways you would find typical for Celtic folk music. Personally, I would enjoy a whole CD offering similar fare on all tracks.

"Bad Beyond Belief" is an aptly named song. This tongue-in-cheek ditty is about the creation of a band that wasn't that good. Even though they played together a lot, they never improved. Fortunately for them, "bad got big and [they] were bad so [they] got bigger too." The song really isn't that bad, but it is rather silly. The melody has more of an old-time bluegrass feel than anything else. I believe Rob got the melody for the track from the traditional tune "Little Liza Jane."

"Agenda" is a short piano piece that makes me think of some of the piano work Howard Jones has done. The tune is engaging, yet a bit melancholic. Or maybe it just saddens me that I dropped playing the piano as a youngster. That aside, this is a very poignant piece that just might bring a tear to your eye.

"More Than a Friend (I Need a Friend With a Truck)" is another tongue-in-cheek song. According to the promo material, this song had some airplay on "Car Talk" (a National Public Radio show). Rob proves he has a sense of humor once again with the lyrics for this track. "I was going nowhere and I was getting there before I planned to ... with all the stuff I carry around you think that I own this town. I've got too much trouble, too much bad luck. I need more than a friend. I need a friend with a truck."

"High & Mighty Lonesome" sounds like an old-time revival song. I could easily imagine this song on the Oh Brother, Where Are Thou? soundtrack. It sounds like it might have been written in the early 1900s. This is the best track on the CD. I love the banjo and mandolin playing. The chorus is great for the harmonizing if not the lyrics. "I've been high and mighty lonesome. Down so low my wheels won't go. I've been run down, strung out, hung up to dry. Mighty lonesome, mighty high." Imagine that in two-part harmony in a revival tent and you probably get the picture.

Rob is joined on Tone Without Tension by Bob Dick (bass, fiddle, mandolin, resophonic guitar, vocals), Susan Gedutis Lindsay (baritone saxophone), Ken Hickey (percussion), Satu Caristen (bodhran, vocals), Ron Carlson (banjo) and Alison Darrow (vocals). Besides writing all but two of the tunes, Rob sings (not too well, but bearably) and plays guitar, flute, whistle, bouzouki and keyboards (quite well).

When I first started listening to Tone Without Tension I was hit with just how well Rob played compared to his lack of vocal talent. At first I wasn't sure if his vocals would be a turn off. After several listens, this CD has become a common fixture in my CD player. I've become used to the vocals. But I really like the songs, so I can be forgiving there. I enjoy listening to the various musical styles on the CD. In short, I find Tone Without Tension worth checking out and listening to a few times before making a hasty decision based on singing ability alone.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Wil Owen

26 April 2008

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new