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Album review: Bobby Long's 'A Winter Tale'

January 31, 2011 |  6:12 pm

Bobby_long_240_ You’ve seen this guy before. Plaid shirt, acoustic guitar; bedhead forelock flopping over a smoldering eye. Bobby Long seems completely comfortable inhabiting the stereotype of the recondite singer-songwriter — he’s even fielded the “new Dylan” epithets thrown his way, admitting that he bought his signature Gibson J-200 after spotting ol’ Bob wielding one like Paul Bunyan’s ax on the cover of “Nashville Skyline.” How could a young artist this adherent to folk-rock clichés be any good?

Long, a 24-year-old English expat known until now mostly for his friendship with the undead rebel Robert Pattinson, achieves success through means as traditional as the framework he’s adopted. His swaggery growl goes tender in the right places; his tunes are sturdy but graceful, like the curve of something hand-carved.

With titles like “Penance Fire Blues” and “In the Frost,” his manly, slightly supernatural ballads tap into an epoch’s worth of old stories, yet his metaphors are original enough to keep the songs from feeling stale. Long sometimes gets a little lost in his own imagination, but it’s better to display a weakness for overreaching than the writerly laziness that afflicts many young bards.

Producer Liam Watson, known for helming the White Stripes’ “Elephant,” helps Long find a sound that’s redolent of many classic folk-rock recordings as well as contemporaries like Damien Rice and Mumford & Sons. To become a great songwriter, Long still needs to feel the shock of an encounter like the one Dylan felt confronting the African American civil rights movement. He’s obviously ready for that.

—Ann Powers

Bobby Long
“A Winter Tale”
(ATO)
Two and a half stars (Out of four)

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