Somebody Loan Me A Dime

Fenton Robinson

Alligator Records, 1974

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/27/1997

I don't remember the exact date, but it was sometime in the fall of 1989. I was in the main studio of the college radio station I worked for at 5 a.m., preparing for a blues show I aired at 6; the hour provided me the chance to plan out the entire show. Digging through a pile of all-but-forgotten albums, I discovered an artist named Fenton Robinson. The instant I slapped it on the turntable and heard him moan "You Don't Know What Love Is," I was immediately hooked. The record became a staple of my show.

Maybe that's why when I heard that Robinson died recently of brain cancer, I was crushed - but it could also be because the music community never recognized this man for the musical legend he was. Somebody Loan Me A Dime, Robinson's debut disc for Alligator Records (and the label's fifth release) is proof of his mastery of the blues.

The title track may be better known because of Boz Scaggs' version (and, according to Somebody Loan Me A Dime's liner notes, his claim that he wrote the song). Robinson's guitar work - on this track and throughout the album -- not only has roots in 12-bar blues, but also in the rock vein. Some of the riffs Robinson squeezes out of his Gibson hollow-body defy the 12-bar fashion -- a honestly refreshing change of pace. Fronting it all are Robinson's plaintive cries of love despite hardships he's faced. (I, however, will never understand why Alligator Records changed the cover art for this release; if Bruce Iglauer is reading, maybe he can enlighten me.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

And though "You Don't Know What Love Is" was executed even better by fellow labelmate Jimmy Johnson a few years later, it is this original version, complete with a horn section (another rarity in the blues world) that weighs heavier on the listener's ear.

While Robinson sings about leaving the Chicago scene on "The Getaway," he can't escape it, as he proved with his cover of the traditional "Going To Chicago." Truth is, Robinson's blues do have a Windy City flavor to them - slightly laid-back, but challenging traditions. Robinson's vocal style is quite mellow, often pleading, but is very pure and natural - more so than many blues singers I've heard over the years. One listen to the range he shows on "Gotta Wake Up" speaks louder than any words I could write on the subject.

The recording of this album, despite being done in a studio, has the feel of a live show, as if the band were captured on stage of a venue like Buddy Guy's Legends (okay, so that bar didn't exist in 1974, gimme a break). There is a crispness to the drums of Tony Gooden that is hard to capture in the studio. Bassist Cornelius Boyson makes his presence felt late in the album -- and makes a strong impression for his short time in the spotlight. Mighty Joe Young, himself destined for greatness in the blues world later on, wisely stays out of the spotlight and lets Robinson have his glory.

If Somebody Loan Me A Dime has any weakness, it is the uniformity of the music. Sure, it's a great album and all, but for all of the chances it takes, I would have liked to hear Robinson and crew take more. Still, this is a small criticism.

Robinson never became the household name that artists like B.B. King did, and commercial success seemed to elude him. But Robinson never sold his music short to gain fame -- and for that, we, the fans of the blues, should be eternally grateful. Somebody Loan Me A Dime is a great place to start discovering the magic of Robinson -- and to understand just what the music world lost upon his death.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Alligator Records, and is used for informational purposes only.