Robert Arellano’s psychedelic folk represents the next stage of his musical evolution and his public re-launch after the hard reckoning of spiritual transformation brought him to ground zero. With distinctive vocals from his “one-in-a-million voice” (producer Dave Jerden, Jane’s Addiction, and Alice in Chains), Arellano draws on influences as diverse as Soundgarden, Nick Drake, CSNY, Led Zeppelin, The Smiths, James Brown, and Black Flag to shapeshift across genres. That scope is reflected in his roots, which are as much Texas metal-infused and acoustic rock as the classical sensibility of a boy among whose earliest memories were lying beneath his mom’s grand piano listening to her play Brahms and Chopin.
Arellano’s first love was for strings, expressed through violin as a child and the bass guitar as a teenager. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, he played bass with legendary Austin funk hip-hop band Retarted Elf, opening for outfits like Schoolly D, Fugazi, and Faith No More. The crunchy, harmony-laden power-pop of Texas’s Velvethead gave him the opportunity to sing lead and harmony, and stints with other bands such as Atlantics Soul Review and Shining Path further expanded his skill. But by his own admission, Arellano’s relationship to music was a house built on sand.
He withdrew from public performance and after many years honing vocals, writing, and arranging – while raising his daughter – the foundations began to crumble. Arellano’s “strange motivations” for music, which had been fed by the adulation heaped upon him as a young man, collapsed. Now a mature artist deeply immersed in Christian and Amazonian mysticism – and their unexpected intersection – the thread to Arellano’s old life and identity frayed, ready to snap. There are no words for shamanic ego death and there is no schedule for what the mystics of old called ‘dying to the self’. Unable to even pick up his beloved acoustic six-string, Arellano experienced the desert of creative emptiness.
The message was clear: it was time to listen. The hymns of Portuguese Christian mysticism and the otherworldly indigenous healing songs from the Peruvian Amazon filled the void with a baptismal clarity – and reoriented Arellano’s life and career. It was about as far removed from the American music scene as can be imagined. When dawn broke the spell of Arellano’s dark night, his music returned, revitalised and turned outward to the world.
On Time is the first testimony to Arellano’s spiritual renewal. Acclaimed guitarist and producer Cameron Greider (Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Sean Lennon, Natalie Merchant) was brought on board and recognized in Arellano the “same intensity and spiritual sincerity” as the late esoteric work of PM Dawn (which Cameron co-wrote and played on). With Matt Johnson (who played on Jeff Buckley’s “Grace”) on drums, they emerged from a studio session in Manhattan touched by serendipity and with a live three-piece recording on old-school two-inch tape. The result is the coalescing of magic, ceremony, and music: lo-fi psychedelic that evokes the folk rock of the ’60s and ’70s, yet is a testament to metamorphosis itself.
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