Robb Kunkel: Abyss
Robb Kunkel was a wanderer. He moved from Indiana to California to Colorado to Chicago, and traveled around Mexico and Europe. He was a steady-gigging barroom piano player at vacation spots. For a time, Kunkel worked as a promotions guy for ABCDunhill records, which sort of led him to his connection with Tumbleweed Records, the label that released his sole album—this wide-ranging 1973 oddity that moved from mystic folk-rock shrouded in surf sounds and spectral harmony vocals with tinkling chimes to skittering gag-country and baroque piano ballads. Mystic visions of the universe pop up. “Don’t the earth look so much different now/ that you’ve seen the sun from inside out?” sings Kunkel on the Jefferson Airplane-ish album opener “You Were the Morning.” Kunkel’s sound had something in common with the music that ELO, Boston and Todd Rundgren were making at about the same time— ambitious pop music with flashes of a Broadway/rock-opera aesthetic. Kunkel, who also wrote and published short stories drawn from his travels, died in 2015 at the age of 64. The wind and string section interludes add a level of Burt Bacharach grandiosity to these songs. Kunkel said that he knew at the time that there wasn’t a commercially viable song on the record, but that it was fun to blow a bunch of record-company money on making an elaborate document with the help of high-dollar session musicians. The results remain intriguing.