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Robinella & the CC String Band is the brainchild of mandolinist Cruz Contreras, who formed the group's precursor, the Stringbeans, in 1997 while attending the University of Tennessee at Knoxville as a jazz piano major. The bluegrass band's co-founder was singer/guitarist Robin Ella Tipton, and it also featured other UT students Jay Clark, Clint Cagle, and Joel Keebler. Adding jazz elements to their sound, the Stringbeans attracted local attention, but not enough to keep Clark, Cagle, and Keebler from departing when they finished school.
Contreras and Tipton married, and by 1999 they had reconfigured the group, adding Billy Contreras on fiddle, Steve Kovalcheck on electric guitar, and Taylor Coker on upright bass, to form Robinella & the CC String Band. The group built up a following around Knoxville and released its first album, Robinella & the CC String Band (2000), and its second, No Saint No Prize (2001), on independent Big Gulley Records. They were then signed to Columbia Records, which released an EP, Blanket for My Soul, selecting tracks from their earlier records, in December 2002.
Gaining national exposure by touring the country opening for Kasey Chambers, the band released its eponymous full-length major-label CD in May 2003. Three years later, the band (now going by the Robinella moniker) issued its first album for Dualtone. Solace for the Lonely was produced by Doug Lancio (Patty Griffin, Nanci Griffith, Steve Earle) and captured the group's most focused sound of its career to date. ~ William Ruhlmann
- Knoxville, TN
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