Robert Connely Farr Conjures Up Spirits & Sounds Of His Hometown Heroes With New Album 'Shake It'
By Eric Alper.
The traditions and soul-deep connections of the blues are handed down and passed along like precious artistic gifts. When you’re an artist who grew up in a place that spawned several musical legends of the genre, you can’t help but be born into that ongoing legacy. Bolton, Mississippi-born, Vancouver, BC-based singer-songwriter and guitarist Robert Connely Farr builds on the influences of his hometown blues heroes with his bold and blistering new album “Shake It” and the featured single, “Lefty”.
A perfect encapsulation of the mix of bone-deep skills and sense of wild abandon that permeates all 9 tracks on “Shake It”, “Lefty” throws down a guttural guitar shuffle that aims its thump directly for the center of the chest. When Farr sings “C’mon Lefty take me to the limit” in his gravel road baritone, you know you’re in for a raucous ride through a night of defiant, devil-may-care rebellion.
Everybody tired of living
Ain’t nobody want to die
I’m a catfish swimming down the river
Live my life, let me get high
The full throttle blues rock of “Lefty” and the album’s title track “Shake It”, both written by Farr, contain all the grit and fire of a man that’s dodged more than a few bullets. The album’s 6 tracks written or co-written by Farr, and 3 carefully chosen covers by home state heroes Charley Patton, Tommy McLennan and Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, respond to Farr’s unexpected 2019 cancer diagnosis, emergency surgery and recovery shortly after celebrating prestigious Maple Blues Awards nominations for Songwriter and New Artist of the Year.
“In the wake of my cancer surgery, I fell hard into this Charley Patton book,” recalls Farr. “I’d never known much about Patton, ironic as I grew up walking the same streets he did as a young man. I felt a lot of similarities to aspects of his life – leaving home but always missing it, troubles with liquor, not fitting in, but always about the song… always about the song. ‘Screamin’ & Hollerin’ hit me like a ton of bricks – that song kicks the album off.”
After an inspiring trip back to Mississippi to Jimmy “Duck” Holmes’ Bentonia Blues Festival, Farr and his band had already begun recording what would become his epic, 16-track 2020 release “Country Supper” when his cancer diagnosis temporarily derailed everything. After recovering from surgery, Farr and his band dove back into finishing the project that would score sustained buzz from critics and fans alike, garner glowing reviews and receive numerous placements on 'Best of 2020' lists. “Country Supper” left the door wide open for this year’s leaner, meaner, but no less epic, follow up “Shake It”.
Recorded at Vancouver’s legendary Hipposonic Studios and co-produced by Farr and his two core band mates, drummer Jay Bundy Johnson and bassist Tom Hillifer, “Shake It” delivers a soundscape ranging from slow burn to full-on earthquake. Riding along with his long-time rhythm section “The Dirty Dirty”, Farr’s grit soaked voice and howling guitar paint images of swamps packed with catfish while spirits dance in the sky.
“We recorded in Vancouver in the same room AC/DC, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi all worked in,” notes Farr. “We kept the team small for this one and felt strongly about making this ourselves. For the better part of 15 years, they are the only guys I play with.”
He may make his home now on Canada’s Pacific Coast, but Robert Connely Farr’s brand of blues is deeply steeped in the muddy Mississippi Delta. It’s loose, swampy, hard-driving, rough around the edges, in-the-moment feeling is inspired by the legendary musicians from the same area Farr hails from himself. In particular, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, who mentored Farr in a particular form of Delta Blues called the Bentonia Blues, named after a town just down the road from Farr’s hometown of Bolton.
“One of the most beautiful experiences in my life has been learning directly from Jimmy Duck Holmes,” recounts Farr. “He’s rarely in tune, he doesn’t write songs down, but he’s mesmerizing. I remember when I told him I had cancer – he said ‘you ain’t dead yet!’”
It’s Holmes’ authenticity and forward drive that gave Farr some of what he would need later on to overcome his health crisis and keep creating. “I remember another night, finishing a set at his juke joint - having not played Hard Time like he taught me. He got right up in my face, and said, digging his finger into my chest, ‘You don’t play it like me, you don’t play it like Skip James or Jack Owens! You gotta play it like YOU gonna play it. THAT is what the people gonna feel. THAT’S the blues!’”
And that is why nobody else will shake it like Robert Connely Farr is gonna shake it.
The new album “Shake It”, featuring the focus track “Lefty” is available now.