“All About the Timing” is Roland Roberts’ debut album. That came as a bit of a surprise, because there’s a self-assurance about the ten songs on offer (all Roland Roberts originals) that show experience and maturity not often found on first albums. If you want one word that sums up the album, it’s gentle. The musical arrangements, whether they’re string band, country or blues are uncluttered and unrushed, the humorous songs are gently humorous and even the politically-themed “Wake Up”, about America’s profit-driven healthcare system, is less a call to arms than a polite invitation to smell the coffee. And that’s why it hangs together so well; nothing’s forced or strained and everything is there for a reason.

Roland’s wanderings around the United States before settling in Alaska are reflected in his songs with references to Toronto, Colorado, Portland and Lincoln, Nebraska and musical stylings from across the North American continent. There’s even a couple of songs in triple time. The melancholy country song “Don’t Tell Me Goodbye” uses the time signature to emphasise the plaintive feel of the song (along with fiddle, harmonica and pedal steel), while the uptempo string band arrangement of “Keep Movin’ On” uses the triple time lilt to enhance the forward-looking message of the song.

Gentle humour plays an important part in the mix of “All About the Timing”. “Sittin’ in Nebraska” is a light-hearted take on John Fogerty’s “Lodi” theme of being stuck in Nowheresville, “Being Me” is a self-deprecatory piece with a reminder to be true to yourself and “Rambling Joe” is the story of someone taking that advice to its logical conclusion set against a string band arrangement with tight harmonies. “Picture on the Wall” takes a light-hearted look at growing up and growing away, picking up on a theme running through the album that we can’t ever stop moving. Among the other highlights of the album are “Lonely Blues”, featuring some lovely resonating Wurlitzer electric piano and the country rock of the title song with the simple message that, in life and relationships, however well we plan, our plans will be disrupted.

This is an album that’s easy on the ear, seducing the listener with subtle playing and arrangements before slipping in a surprise like the unexpected ending of the final song “Keep Movin On”:

Well your folks never liked me and I never knew why

I’d done nothing wrong, all I could do was try

So imagine my heartache when I found it was true

That the reason that they didn’t like me was you’

“All About the Timing” delivers the lyrical punches when you least expect them, contrasting the realities of life, particularly a musician’s life, with subtle and delicate stylings. It’s a contrast that works throughout the album, creating a piece of work that satisfies on musical and lyrical terms. You can’t argue with that.

“All About the Timing” is out now in the UK on Happy Life Records.

Here’s the video for the title track: