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Robbie Cavanagh – ‘Tough Love’ album review

Recipient of the Whispering Bob Harris Emerging Artist Award at the 2021 Americana Music Association UK Awards, Robbie Cavanagh is back with his first album in 6 years in ‘Tough Love.’ Robbie will also perform at this year’s The Long Road Festival as well as the main stage at The British Country Music Festival.

Whereas Robbie’s previous record ‘To Leave/To Be Left’ in 2017 grappled with emotions of loss and self-pity from leaving or being left behind, ‘Tough Love’ comes as an invigorating reality check. It’s a grittier and stronger-minded letter to himself and to anybody else who may be in need of a heavy dose of tough love. 

Written over the course of the past 5 years, each track explores a new perspective on the record’s overarching theme and documents Robbie’s own journey of self-reflection and maturity, both as a person and as a songwriter. The idea of tough love takes many forms through the journey of the record, from the tough love faced at the end of a relationship on songs like ‘Thinkin’ of Leaving’ or the more bluesy ‘Helpless’, to the tough love that comes with the clarity of hindsight on ‘Another Dead End.’

Across the 11 songs on offer here you’ll find a slick, mature fusion of adult Pop, Rock and Americana that is thoughtfully produced and executed with a deft touch. ‘I Call my Home’ feels like a Dire Straits song straight out of the Mark Knopfler playbook as Cavanagh explores feeling like a ghost. Elsewhere there’s signs of Fleetwood Mac, Del Amitri and a couple of Civil Wars-esque moments that really elevate the album beyond the normal run-of-the-mill expectations.

I can hear Del Amitri in tracks like ‘Another Dead End’ and ‘Dancing Darkness’. The former is an atmospheric, intense song with some very personal storytelling in it whilst ‘Dancing Darkness’, built, as it is, in the same vein, also has a hint of 60s Beatles within the vocals and the cadence of the melody. It builds to a fine melodic chorus with an underbelly of Western guitar beneath. Both songs deal with frank and honest subject matter in a raw and personal way.

That raw honesty can be found in spades all over this album. ‘Drove’, an acoustic driven song with plaintive guitar flourishes, contains very cinematic lyrics about being in Paris but not really wanting to be there. ‘I’m out of my depth,’ Cavanagh admits, ‘I should have stayed at home,’ whilst ‘Fare Thee Well Letter’ continues those acoustic vibes on a track about not opening a goodbye letter because you already know what it is going to say. A Folk-leaning song, ‘Fare Thee Well Letter’ comes with an M Night Shyamalan style twist that changes the complexion and context of the song in a clever way too.

Introspective without being maudlin, ‘Tough Love’ is a perfect listen for anyone in the throws of a break up or post-relationship phase of their lives where the lines and social norms are a little blurred. ‘Thinking of Leaving’, which has definite Sting vibes to it, is a little lighter and looser than some of the tracks on this album as Cavanagh calls the bluff of a partner. ‘If you’re thinking of leaving,’ he sings, ‘then get up and go!’ Another relationship hits the rocks on the Stones / Clapton influenced ‘Helpless.’ This is a bluesy, 70s tinged song with more than a hint of Gospel to it. ‘It ain’t kind to leave somebody without love,’ Cavanagh decries whilst ‘Hang Up’, one of the best songs on the album, with it’s insistent drum beat and Fleetwood Mac rhythms, finds Cavanagh ruminating on shadows, cowards and villains before the chorus erupts and another relationship bites the dust. ‘Baby, when you’re screaming down the phone,’ he says, ‘I guess I have the right to hang up.’

Perhaps the best three moments on ‘Tough Love’ come when Cavanagh goes into full Civil Wars mode with the augmentation of some delightful female vocals into his songs. ‘Hungover’ sees him asserting that, ‘I was helping you to heal before you went and changed your mind.’ Some ephemeral vocals from both singers and delightful strings on this track bring a real touch of class to proceedings as we get a look at a relationship failing to get off the ground whilst ‘Hey, Its Alright’, a quiet, intense song with very cinematic lyrics and imagery introduces a female vocal on the second verse that really elevates the song onto another level. Album closer, ‘Look Out Below’, meanwhile, has a slight Queen influence to the instrumentation and orchestration which is quite lush and sweeping as the song meanders its way towards a louder denouement driven by military-style drums, strings and piano flourishes. It’s quite a ride, this track, and one that is a perfect choice to close down this intense and dramatic album.

‘Tough Love’ can be a tough listen in places. The subject matter is very much focused on the dynamic between men and women in relationships and very focused on the differences between us rather than the things that bring us together. Cavanagh is pouring a lot of hurt into these songs and he bares his soul in raw and honest fashion across the whole album. It’s a slick, mature and intense foray into the murky world of human emotions and it’s not always easy listening. ‘Tough Love’ is an album designed for late nights and whiskey, for small, intimate performances and for songwriter rounds. It holds a mirror up to our behaviours and interactions with each other and challenges you to be better and to be stronger than you are so that you can ride out the storms that life throws at you in your twenties and thirties and hopefully emerge stronger and more at peace with yourself on the other side.

Track list: 1. I Call My Home 2. Thinkin Of Leaving 3. Another Dead End 4. Drove 5. Hungover 6. Helpless 7. Feels Good 8. Hang Up 9. Fare Thee Well Letter 10. Dancing Darkness 11. Hey, It’s Alright 12. Look Out Below Record Label: Self Produced Release Date: May 26th Buy ‘Tough Love’ now

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Recipient of the Whispering Bob Harris Emerging Artist Award at the 2021 Americana Music Association UK Awards, Robbie Cavanagh is back with his first album in 6 years in 'Tough Love.' Robbie will also perform at this year's The Long Road Festival as well as the main stage at The...Robbie Cavanagh - 'Tough Love' album review