As a vocalist, Robin Matthews has more in common with her main influence, Janis Joplin, than an aptitude for belting out the blues.
“I have no musical training,” the Claysville resident will admit, as was the case with the late Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. “I would listen to music constantly, and I would try to harmonize with whoever was singing.”
Listen to “Leave On,” the compact she and veteran South Strabane Township guitarist Bob Giacometti released in November, and you’ll agree that her self-education went well. The eight-song collection of originals covers an array of musical styles, from blues to driving rock to straight-out country, and Matthews adapts her voice flawlessly to each.
Robin and Bob – R&B, as they credit themselves on the CD cover – began performing together as part of the worship band at the Bible Chapel in Washington, and they also joined talents at First Baptist Church in Claysville, where her husband, the Rev. Michael Matthews, is pastor.
“We started doing some songs there, and we had a lot in common musically,” Giacometti said, especially tunes made famous by Joplin: In their repertoire are “Me and Bobby McGee,” her cover of the Kris Kristofferson-Fred Foster song that went to No. 1 after her death, and the lesser-known “Turtle Blues,” a song Joplin wrote and performed with her band Big Brother and the Holding Company.
The duo have been performing frequently around the region, and from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, they host Valentour’s Unplugged, an open event at Valentour’s Family Restaurant and Pub in McDonald.
“It gives people a chance to get out and play who wouldn’t normally get out to play,” and so far, performers have been getting plenty of applause, either for their favorite covers or originals they want to try in front of audiences. “That’s the whole idea with the open stage, to support other musicians.”
Matthews and Giacometti received plenty of support from other musicians in recording “Leave On.”
“We were just going to do an acoustic, her and I,” Giacometti explained. “And it was like, well, this song sounds like it needs saxophone. So let’s just put whatever we want on it.”
As for sax, Dale Mangold takes care of business on the track “Pussycat Blues,” which also features Rod Cregut, who played with Giacometti in a band called Blind Date, on keyboards. Andy Gregg plays a lively upright bass for the two-step “I’ll Be,” and the title track has Allen Wells on tenor banjo and Chris Volpe – he hosts an open mic Thursdays at Speal’s Tavern in New Alexandria – on trumpet.
Other guests are Bob “Crafty” Crafton on pedal steel guitar for the country waltz “One Classy Broad” and Bob Banerjee, of the band Corned Beef and Curry, playing violin on “Love Me Three Times.”
“These guys are all really good musicians. We would just give them a concept and let them do what they were going to do. It all worked out,” Giacometti said. For example: “I told Bob Banerjee, I don’t want a fiddle. I want a gypsy violin. And that’s what he did.”
Overseeing the recording was Josh Gerba, another performer with the Bible Chapel worship band, at his Pink Flamingo Studios in Monongahela. He served as engineer, mixer and producer while contributing drums, keyboards and guitar to the sessions.
The songwriting that resulted in “Leave On” represents a purely collaborative effort.
“Once of us would have the basic song structure,” Giacometti explained. “Then we’d work together to tweak everything.”
Matthews found it to be an interesting process.
“Maybe I wrote the lyrics to a song, and then we came together to work on the music. And what I thought it was going to sound like in my head ended up being completely different,” she said. “It’s just neat to see how a song kind of takes on its own life.”
She is a longtime friend of Elaine Tummino, who owns Valentour’s with her husband, Jon.
“When they started the process of wanting to open the restaurant, Jon and I had been talking about music,” Matthews recalled. “Then Bob and I started performing. I said, ‘Would you want us to play here?’ And he said he wanted to do an open mic night.”
Along with serving as the chef for his restaurant, Tummino performs and records primarily original songs as Long Run Road.
“Jon is a musician, himself,” Matthews said, “so he knows how important music is to the community.”