BY RAINEY WETNIGHT
Remember Julian Lennon? His 1984 debut Valotte put him on the map, containing edgy rock, mellow melodies, and laconic vocals throughout. Virginia’s Rob Oliver puts me in mind of him. His first public offering, Highs and Lows and Blues, would make John Lennon’s son smile. It sounds nothing like the hallowed recordings of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf or even Sean Costello. However, his unique twist on the blues is one that will last for a while. Combining expressive harmonica, gregarious guitar, and skillful songwriting, Oliver knows what will resonate with listeners far and wide. Traditionalists might search for something more, well, traditional here, but as his final track states, Rob is “[In With the New,] Out With the Old.”
Born and raised in Hampton Roads, VA, Oliver received his first guitar at sixteen years old and hasn’t looked back since. He developed his musical skills playing the alternative tunes of the ‘90s, as well as a vast array of rock and metal influences, ranging from the Beatles to Led Zeppelin to early Metallica. Rob has been writing and performing original music for over twenty years in both electric and acoustic settings. His listening tastes have changed throughout his career, but everything continues to be a mix of what has come before. While he’s always harbored an interest in blues music, it was the Christmas gift of a lifetime – a harmonica from his mother – that led him to truly study the genre. Its flavorful musical textures are clearly displayed on his debut, currently being played on local radio and Internet stations throughout the country.
Performing along with Mr. Oliver (lead vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, harmonica and keyboard) are Patrick Dermody on drums, Chris Brydge on upright bass, Dave Hufstedtler on bass, Sherri Linn, Pamela Jo Sward, Holly Kirsten and Jennifer Gammill on background vox, Ben Lassiter on dobro, Carl Olson on piano, Rick Anthony on guitar and background vocals, Anthony Rosano on electric guitar and background vocals, and Jason Cale on a guitar solo. Holly Kirsten also plays violin and cello on track six, “Everything I Need.”
Track number one starts us all off “On the Same Page” with some great harp and a good message: getting in sync with someone before beginning a romantic relationship. “Think For Yourself,” a true-blues counting song, contains a catchy chorus: “Think for yourself instead of me. I’ve let you down so frequently.” “Before the Ship Goes Down” is a shuffle and surefire hit on Sirius XM. “We could always get right back together,” sing Rob and cohort Sherri Linn. “Love can last one night or stay forever.” “Everything I Need” is a perfect slow-burner with just a touch of jazz, and “That’s a Fact” will have everybody and their dog singing along. “The People I Love” is a jolt of acoustic and electric adrenaline that’ll rip through you for the entire length of the song. Last but not least comes “Out with the Old,” best experienced via headset: “We’re always trying to save our soul, we're always digging a hole. We're always doing what we are told. We're always out with the old.” Truer words were never spoken, especially in the digital age. This song’s both a celebration of novelty and a lament that what’s past is past.
Highs and Lows and Blues is an eclectic gem, full of wit and subtle grace – like Julian Lennon.
by paul shugrue
Rob Oliver is a Hampton Roads native who has just released his debut album, “Highs & Lows & Blues.” With help from some of his favorite area musicians he has created an album of world class, utterly original roots-rock.
Anthony Rosano, joins him on a track, so does Jason Cale, it was co-produced by Joe Talley of Who We Are Not and the steady bass lines of the late Dave Hufstedler are heard on a number of songs. But it’s the straight ahead songwriting of Oliver that’s the highlight. Whether he’s playing with a full band or on the acoustic solo tunes, he has a relatable style that makes the songs easy to open up to.
Oliver is a multi-instrumentalist, playing guitars, harmonica, bass and drums sometimes all on the same song, and his earnest voice blends effortlessly with his back ground singers.
There’s a joyousness to these twelve tracks that run from acoustic fingerpicked guitar to full on rock songs to a tour-de-force, smoking torch song that comes near the end. As the title suggests, “Highs & Lows & Blues” by Rob Oliver balances it’s emotions and may be one of the best albums of the year from the Hampton Roads music scene.
by jeff maisey
Groovin' blues doesn't get much better than the long-awaited "Highs & Lows & Blues" from Rob Oliver.
Oliver plays most of the instruments (guitars, bass, harmonica) and sings (lead and backup) on the hot opening track, "On the Same Page". And while Oliver could no doubt maintain this multi-instrument showcase solo, he's keen to call upon a wealth of local talent.
"Think For Yourself", a deep south swinger if ever there was one, benefits with the raging bass work of Chris Brydge. Sherri Linn adds backing vocals to the grooving, "Before the Ship Goes Down" and the delta blues-meets-Dead "Wherever I Am".
Rob Oliver and an ensemble that includes pianist Carl Olson, Brydge (upright bass), and a backing vocal cast of Jennifer Gammil, Holly Kirsten, and Pamela Jo Sward slows the pace down to a small, smokey lounge vibe on the delightful "What to Me You Do".
Other highlights are "The People I Love" (with Anthony Rosano on guitar), "Everything I Need" (featuring the late Dave Hufstedler on bass), "The Devil in You" (Jason Cale providing the guitar solo), and "That's a Fact" (guitar solo by Rick Anthony).
All highs and blues on this album.