Guitarist Robbie McIntosh possesses an enviable if somewhat schizophrenic résumé. His two big gigs seem to be polar opposites of each other -- first as guitar foil to Chrissie Hynde in the Pretenders, then as the last in a long line of guitarists who played in former Beatle Paul McCartney's Wings. But the quality that he brought to each of those positions was not necessarily an attitude equal to those of the strong personalities that hired him. McIntosh has been blessed with the ability to successfully play out of whatever corner he's been painted into, yet still within the confines of the situation. It's this amazing talent for rising above and yet remaining tethered to the task at hand that makes McIntosh so desirable as a hired guitar slinger. It's also the quality that makes Emotional Bends, McIntosh's debut as a frontman, slightly problematic.
Without that strong presence in the lead spot, McIntosh has no one to rely on for a blueprint, so the question becomes whether or not he is equipped to take on the role normally occupied by his employers. Based on the results of his first album, the answer is a definite maybe. The question of expertise is a non-issue, because McIntosh is as accomplished and proficient as any of his more recognized six-string brethren. The material on Emotional Bends works a bluesy, Anglo folk-pop groove that falls somewhere between Richard Thompson and Mark Knopfler as far as guitar invention and bravado are concerned (see "Homesteaders," "Cheque Book and Pen," the title track). Vocally, McIntosh offers a warm approximation of Pete Townshend ("Roll Away," "Oh Judy"), while the band that he has assembled is nothing short of stunning, including bass impresario Pino Palladino and guitarist Melvin Duffy. There is nothing exactly wrong with any part of Emotional Bends, but there's little that noticeably grabs the listener either.
McIntosh and his band and his songs all simmer and bubble nicely, occasionally rattling the lid but never boiling over and making a mess. Emotional Bends grows with successive listenings, and what it lacks in immediacy is more than made up for by the sheer technical artistry of the players, who recorded most of Bends without overdubs. Emotional Bends is a lot like Robbie McIntosh's splendid résumé -- it satisfies without seeming to work too hard at it. -- Brian Baker