Joe Robinson is among the hottest young exponents of the Merle Travis/Chet Atkins approach to guitar. This is abundantly apparent on “Let the Guitar Do the Talkin’” (see transcription from this issue), a standout track from the Australian guitarist’s latest album, Undertones, which, with its breakneck-speed fingerpicking, speaks to an effortless mastery of the idiom.
Robinson, 28 and now based in Nashville, has long been celebrated as a virtuoso guitarist, as well as a singer-songwriter. He was an obvious prodigy when he picked up the guitar at 10; by the age of 11, he was touring with Tommy Emmanuel.
The original songs on Undertones are pleasant enough, but Robinson’s guitar playing is what really does the talking, to borrow his phrase. The album is dense with brilliant moments on both the acoustic and the electric. On “Anything But Love You,” Robinson layers straight acoustic and effects-laden electric guitars to orchestral effect. “(Do You Want It) To Be Me” finds Robinson rendering a smart modern acoustic accompaniment, with soulful soloing first on electric, then on acoustic. “Snake Man” has a glorious flatpicked acoustic solo in a blues-jazz mode.
Though Undertones touches on influences from traditional fingerstyle to jazz-rock, it does not lack focus; rather it is a celebration of the guitar’s many forms of expression. It’s clear that Robinson has spent a great deal of energy studying how these styles are connected on the instrument, and more important, he has synthesized everything in a highly personal way.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine