Little Sister Records in Los Angeles, California may not be the biggest record label in town but they DO have one thing that the corporate labels don’t—namely—Janet Robin. Robin is a native Southern Californian singer-songwriter and guitarist. Robin’s musical training began when she was a teenager as the youngest and sole female student of Randy Rhoads (Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne).
Before graduating high school she had scored a position as lead guitarist in the mid-1980s, all-girl rock band named Precious Metal. The band was soon discovered by Rodney Bingeheimer of the L.A. rock radio station KROQ and the group was quickly signed to the Polygram Record label. Precious Metal would move to Chameleon/Capitol Records and release several albums.
Robin would also collaborate with bands such as Cheap Trick, Heart and Poison and tour extensively with Precious Metal until the band disbanded. Robin next went to work as a session guitarist. Then in 1992, Robin signed on with Lindsey (Fleetwood Mac) Buckingham’s band. They toured extensively promoting Buckingham’s solo disc, Out of the Cradle.
During the years she spent on the road with Buckingham, Robin’s music was strongly influenced by him and she even learned more about the industry itself. Buckingham’s obvious influence led to Robin’s release of her 1998 debut disc, Open the Door. The intelligent, hook-heavy pop material was well-received. Some songs from this 13-track release were featured on TV and film especially on the then hit television show Felicity. It was during this time that she also toured with such acts as Heart, Loudon Wainwright III and the Smithereens.
The new millennium would witness the release of Robin’s 2001 solo effort Out From Under also on Little Sister Records. It contained 14 tracks including such original songs as “Superhuman Powers” and “Hollywoodland”. She would continue to perform live as well as spend time writing new material. A few years later in 2004, Robin went to California’s famed Laurel Canyon and recorded and released a 7-track acoustic work titled After The Flood. One of the highlights of the CD, “Beautiful Freak” quickly became a fan favorite and was considered one of her “defining songs”. This would also be the year that her noteworthy number “Personal Revolution” would be included on the Genius Entertainment compilation disc GirlsNight Out, Vol. 5.
Reception of her music was positive and so it back to live gigs and more song-writing sessions until 2007 when Robin released another recording her EP Days of Summer. This 5-track disc contained such songs as the title track, “Days of Summer” and “Around the World”. Working with producers Steve Baughman (50 Cent, Eminem) and David Bianco (Mick Jagger, Tom Petty, Teenage Fanclub), Robin laid down acoustically-based tracks that were familiar in theme but not blatantly stereotypical. Robin remarked that recording this album also influenced her musical style and led to new and exciting gigs such as “multiple tours of the Czech Republic.”
She would continue to work with other artists as well. Michelle Shocked, in fact, stated: “Janet Robin is one of the best guitarists in the country: male or female.” Other notable performers Robin has worked with include: Sarah Bettens, Meredith Brooks, Melissa Etheridge, Maia Sharp, Anne McCue, Alice Peacock and Marcy Levy (co-writer with Eric Clapton on “Lay Down Sally”). From 2008 through 2009 Robin was even a touring member of Air Supply.
2009 would also be the year that Robin would meet Johnny Cash’s son, producer John Carter Cash (Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band). Their meeting would result in the recording of Robin’s latest CD Everything Has Changed. Robin recalls: “We have talked at great length about this project and he understands my desire and vision to record an album that is representative of the energy brought out in my live performances.”
Robin continues: “It’s just great to work with a producer that lets me be myself, yet brings out the best in my work. There weren’t many restraints working with John and the vibe and history at Cash Cabin is overwhelmingly inspiring. John seems to ‘get me.’”
Everything Has Changed contains 11 tracks. Nine of the cuts were at least co-written by Robin and two are prominent covers. The CD also contains bonus video footage titled “Janet Robin at Cash Cabin”. The CD energetically opens with “View from Above” which is very reminiscent of country pop.
The second selection is “Bow & Arrow”. This song along with “Clean Getaway”, provide ample evidence that demonstrate Robin’s ability to pick and choose from different music genres and come up with solid, original songs. “Critic’s Choice” here, however, must go to the sexiest cover of the Cindy Walker-penned classic “Dream Baby”. Here Robin blends classic rock, funk and R&B to turn out a tune that adds new meaning to the more famous versions by Roy Orbison and The Everly Brothers. She works it so well.
Another noteworthy number is the fourth track, “Bruise Easily”. This is a brief, blues-tinged ballad in which Robin sings about the risks of relationships. Critics generally agree that Robin puts out some of her best vocal and instrumental work on the album here in this tune. This is followed by “Rumor”. “Rumor” is reminiscent of early Rod Stewart material and, in fact, your rockin’ reviewer would love to see Robin and Stewart do it in duet.
“CHR #137” gives the audience a chance to appreciate Robin’s guitar work. This is an instrumental that smacks of older Stephen Stills showmanship and even very vaguely reminiscent of the kind of solo work for which a young Jimmy Page once was known to include in various performances. This is also the track used with the bonus video.
The title track, “Everything has Changed”, contains thoughtful song lyrics. It focuses on the hard, cold facts about being in love. Speaking of love, “Everybody Falls in Love in Prague” smacks of being one of the songs most likely to be highlighted in live gigs. The music includes memorable guitar heroics as well and somewhat obviously points out Robin’s ability to mix and match musical genres and influences.
“This Is Love” is the tenth track. This may be a PJ Harvey cover but Robin rocks it. Musically, the highlight here is Robin’s guitar solo.
The closing cut is a bit of a flashback to the album’s opener. It’s titled “View from Above (Long Version)”. It is simply what it says it is—the longer, perhaps original version of the first song on the CD. In general, the entire album shows how Robin has taken her different influences and experiences and managed to craft them into a collection of honest, real songs.
Everything Has Changed was more recently released in 2010 by German record label Hypertension Music thanks to Robin’s sometimes touring partner Men At Work’s Colin Hay and her growing fan base outside the US. The album’s international marketing also led to a tour with Midge Ure of Ultravox and Band Aid fame. Hypertension will continue to promote future international tours for Robin who regularly tours racking up to 150 gigs a year. In Robin’s case, Every HAS changed . . .for the better.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.