If your tastes run toward melodic alternative rock, its slightly earlier incarnation as “college rock” and/or power pop, chances are good that the name Bobby Sutliff rings some welcome bells. Sutliff was a songwriter and guitarist in the Windbreakers, and in the years after that he was a key member of Donovan’s Brain. His name might also be familiar as the tributee of a various-artists collection called Skrang: Sounds Like Bobby Sutliff. Released a decade ago, that disc featured a tuneful roundup of Sutliff’s friends and associates, playing his songs with a goal of helping to defray his medical costs associated with a severe automobile accident.
Fast forward back to August 2022, and Sutliff has passed away. Now a year later, a posthumous collection artlessly titled Bob Sings and Plays brings together a baker’s dozen of tracks all featuring the musician. Recorded variously between 2011 and a few months before his untimely passing, the collection also features a couple of tracks featuring other players of note who have since left us as well. Tom Stevens (Long Ryders) passed in 2021, and Ric Parnell (Spinal Tap, Donovan’s Brain) died in ‘22. All three are missed.
But let’s lift the gloom a bit and focus on the music. Save for the contributions of Stevens and Parnell, Bob Sings and Plays is exactly what its title advertises: Sutliff handles all the instruments: jangling guitars, solid bass, straight-ahead drumming, a bit of keyboards, and all the vocals. The yearning, windswept, melancholy and often hypnotic character that defined his style is all over this disc, and the songs are terrific.
Bob Sings and Plays doesn’t sound like a one-man band project; it’s the sound of a top-flight janglepop band making grown-up music, the sort that worms its way into the brain stem and refuses to leave. The album’s surfeit of wonderful instrumental breaks are nicely balanced with evocative lyrics and heartfelt vocals. From the opener “Come on Home” right through to the pair of demos that close the set, it’s a lot of things: a polished and accomplished record, a reminder of just how much was lost with Sutliff’s passing and – perhaps most significantly – a great, great, great listen.