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Robert LaRoche is back!

A fiddle’s optimistic howl adorns the glistening swing-rhythm of “Seeds of Doubt.” Old fashioned vocal harmonies lay the groundwork for a devilishly catchy pop groove in the well-titled “Drawn to You.” Americana gets an upgraded, modern makeover in the blustery “A Thousand Shades.” Looking for some righteous alternative rock rhythm? “Jet Blue” has got you covered on that front. “Too Much at Once” gives us an iconic serenade against the patterned string melodies of a bygone era in roots rock. The swagger is bursting at the seams in the exotic beats of “The Dream is Gone,” but if I’m being totally honest, there isn’t a moment in this, Robert LaRoche’s brand new EP A Thousand Shades, where the veteran singer/songwriter and stalwart of the legendary Austin music scene doesn’t sound as cool and confident as he ever has. LaRoche pulls out the big guns for this sexy new set of ballads and freeform pop/rockers, and if you’ve been following his career since the beginning, you’re probably going to understand why critics are calling this some of his best work ever right off the bat.

The instrumental fabric of this record is utterly spellbinding, but let’s get something clear; LaRoche’s vocal is the real star of this show. “The Dream is Gone” and “Jet Blue” demonstrate his versatility as a singer, while “Seeds of Doubt” and the title track afford us a closer look at his songwriting skills than we had ever been given access to before. He’s personal with us in “Too Much at Once” and “Drawn to You,” and there’s scarcely a moment where the melodic tone of his voice doesn’t reflect the lyrical narrative that he’s trying to convey to us. LaRoche sounds like a seasoned pro in this EP, but his wise, contemplative lyrics never translate as the nattering of an old timer who has passed his prime in this industry. On the contrary, he sounds more focused and committed to his craft than he did at the start of his career, and it’s hard for me to picture him slowing down anytime soon after hearing the energy that he brings to the table in A Thousand Shades.

This extended play isn’t just another record in a long slew of sensational releases from Robert LaRoche; I think that it’s a turning point for the next era in his rock n’ roll campaign, and furthermore, a sampling of what we can expect to hear out of his camp in the next few years. He’s got everything going for him right now, and with his status in the Austin guitar slinger-circuit only growing more impeccable as time goes by, I can see his output garnering nothing but positive attention if he keeps with this present artistic path that he’s on in A Thousand Shades. I plan on keeping a close eye on what he and his collaborators do in the studio in the months and years to come, and with any luck he’ll treat fans to a nationwide tour featuring these six songs as staples of his new setlist.

Mindy McCall

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