ROBYN HITCHCOCK ought to pay me for reviewing as much of his music as I do. (Seriously: look at all this!) I guess you could say I’m a fan. And that’s why The Man Downstairs: Demos & Rarities warrants both my possession and dissection. Limited to 1000 copies on CD only, this ten song release is sort of a companion to 2014’s The Man Upstairs. The idea then was to record half Hitchcock originals and half cover songs, “a kind of Judy Collins 1965-era album.” Well, I’m not a fan of that folksinger’s, but since it’s always interesting to hear how Robyn hears some of his favorite songs, the concept is a good one. And in this current age of DIY, a good idea. (You can get it on CD or as a digital download on Robyn’s Bandcamp page.)
These, being demos, aren’t as ornate as the ones Upstairs, but that doesn’t matter much. Hitchcock plays mostly guitar, with few overdubs (most being backing or doubling vocals) in a cozy atmosphere. Naturally I’m really into his version of “Arnold Layne,” one of the great early Pink Floyd tunes penned by the “mad genius” Syd Barrett and practically purpose-built for Robyn Hitchcock. I’m not as fond of the Nick Drake tune “River Man” (though I now know where ’90s UK band The Lilac Time got their name) or Dylan’s “Born in Time,” but I like the Townes Van Zandt tune, “The Tower Song.” Of Robyn’s own tunes, a few of them really strike a chord at this moment in time: “All Love and No Peace,” “Recalling the Truth” and especially “The Threat of Freedom.” I’m glad they saved this stuff!
The Man Upstairs was a good record, with stellar versions of The Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You” and The Doors’ “The Crystal Ship,” and so this serving of the demos that led to that Joe Boyd-produced outing makes a great companion piece. The Man Downstairs may not make it into your collection, physically (if it’s sold out by the time you read this), but you’ll still be able to conjure his presence via download. Downstairs download. I like it. – Marsh Gooch
3.5/5 (Tiny Ghost [no cat. #], 2020)