Mississippi-born Vancouver singer/guitarist ROBERT CONNELY FARR releases latest Delta blues opus Pandora Sessions

Article Contributed by Jason Schneide… | Published on Sunday, January 14, 2024

When you come from Bolton, Mississippi (pop. 567), the blues is in your DNA. Indeed, it’s the same place that gave the world Charley Patton, Bo Carter, Sam Chatmon and others who, it could be argued, established the blues as a distinct genre during the early part of the 20th century. The spirit of those artists—along with more recent practitioners such as R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and Jimmy “Duck” Holmes—is ingrained in the sound of Robert Connely Farr.

On his 11th album, Pandora Sessions, singer/guitarist Farr channels the raw energy of Delta blues like never before with 13 songs recorded with his longtime collaborator Jay Bundy Johnson on drums. Unlike their previous work together, Farr approached Pandora Sessions as a clean slate, coming up with new material on the fly in order to convey a sense of spontaneity, as those a century ago often did when putting tracks on wax.

“Typically, I write songs before the recording sessions,” Farr explains. “For this album I didn’t do that for most of it. One thing I’ve noticed studying under Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes and playing with some of the elders back home is how songs just show up out of nowhere. Jay and I were really interested in recording sessions where there was minimal writing and rehearsing. We wanted to capture honesty and intuition. What interests me about these songs the most is what they’ve revealed to me—and about me—since recording.”

Farr’s early interest in writing poetry and haikus led him to discover rap music, particularly artists adept at freestyling. Farr says he revisited that approach on many of the songs on Pandora Sessions, such as “Jackson Town,” “Night Train,” “Prowler,” “How Am I,” “Things They Tellin’ You,” “Train Keep Rollin” and “Oh Lord,” all of which rumble with the mystic power all the great Delta blues artists seemed to possess.

Perhaps surprisingly, Farr has been making all of this gritty blues from his adopted home base, Vancouver BC, where he’s lived for over a decade after studying architecture at Auburn University and working at an Alabama non-profit animal shelter. A friend in Seattle introduced Farr to Vancouver’s charms, prompting him to make the move.

It wasn’t until he was settled in Canada that Farr considered making music in the tradition of his home state, a revelation he says occurred during a trip back to Mississippi in 2017 to visit his ailing father. One day they took a road trip through Vicksburg, Clarksdale, Indianola and Yazoo City, ending up at Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes’ juke joint in Bentonia. “Jimmy was the only one there,” Farr explains. “We got to talking and Jimmy offered to play some songs just for me and my Dad. That day changed it all for me. I went home, grabbed my guitar and went back. Jimmy started teaching me and it literally brought music back home for me.”

There’s no doubt that Farr does Mississippi proud with Pandora Sessions, on which the juke joint vibes are palpable, from Farr’s fuzzy growl to the sultry grooves he and Johnson lock into. The album also continues Farr’s prodigious output since he survived a cancer scare in 2020. Once recovered from emergency surgery, he released five albums in rapid succession, including the internationally acclaimed Country Supper and Shake It, along with Cherry Ball, recorded live at Vancouver’s Fox Theatre. Farr’s songs have also been heard in the television shows Snowpiercer, Resident Alien and Reacher, and he’s received Maple Blues Award nominations for Songwriter of the Year and New Artist of the Year.

Now with Pandora Sessions, Farr is kicking off 2024 in fine fashion, while continuing to carry on the tradition of the artists who laid the foundation for rock and roll.