(Sunshine Drenchy Records)
Steve Robinson, an Englishman in Florida's St. Petersburg, easily managed to get our attention for his first solo-record "Away For The Day" with the off-hand remark that he had worked with Roger McGuinn. And the CD lived up to the expectations. While it's the biggest fear of many singer-songwriters that they will be found dead with 950 self-released CD's still stashed under their bed, Steve's first batch has sold out completely! After two years, there's a new album: "Undercurrent". Steve says: "As far as "Undercurrent" goes, the most important thing to me is that unlike the last album, which was totally solo, this one was a collaboration with my friend Ed Woltil. Ed has a band called "The Ditchflowers" who are getting rave reviews over here for their album "Carried Away". He and fellow Ditchflower Brian Merrill co-produced this album, and Ed also played guitars and bass on it. He was also responsible for some of the interesting brass and string arrangements you hear. It was lovely to have such a sympathetic collaborator to work with, and I'm looking forward to doing it again."
Steve was born in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire (Northern England) and the bio claims: "His most notable high school accomplishment was having the Careers Officer in hysterics by insisting, after much interrogation, that he wanted no part of any career that didn't involve singing and playing the guitar." His influences became 60's melodic pop, 70's folkrock and 80's introspection and melancholy. At twenty-one he took a couple of guitars plus a change of underwear and left for the U.S.A., where he wanted to make a new life for himself in the land of Hope, Glory and the Immigration Attorney. (I want the number of his attorney, as this is NOT so easy as Steve makes it sound!) He joined a band from Tampa Bay, The Headlights, they became Roger McGuinn's touring band. These days he occasionally plays a show with them or sings harmonies with McGuinn, but the main focus is now on his solo-career.
A quite hilarious blog entry tells what happened before we pushed the disc in our CD-player: "It's been over two years since the release of "Away For The Day", and one would think that I've had ample time to leisurely work on this follow-up record. One would be bloody well mistaken. For various reasons (most of them my fault) the CD pressing deadline I had, turned out to be a rather concrete one, so the last couple of months have been an insane, mad dash to the finish line. The reasons why aren't really important; what IS important is that I publicly acknowledge the Herculean efforts of my friends and co-producers, Ed Woltil and Brian Merrill, without whom this posting would be an apology for an unfinished project rather than a release date announcement. Yes, for want of a better term, Ed and Brian saved my sorry arse. What started as a casual, good-natured invitation to embellish my half-finished home-recorded tracks at Brian's studio B, quickly became a succession of hastily scheduled, late-night recording and mixing sessions that proved to be essential in ensuring that "Undercurrent" was released as an LP rather than an EP. Fueled by Ed and Brian's boundless energy, enthusiasm (and the occasional Belgian Trappist ale), drum tracks, electric guitars and bass tracks were somehow miraculously recorded in time to meet the rapidly approaching deadline. In between sessions, Ed continued to somehow find the time to add his always sympathetic (and at times telepathic) touch to my songs, even co-writing one of them ("Class Clown"), as well as programming additional parts at his own home studio. Yes, schedules were interrupted and sleep was sacrificed; there was even rumours of Brian being seen mixing in his pyjamas. Be that as it may, the bottom line is that the two of these fine gentlemen went so far above and beyond the call of duty, that it verges on the embarrassing. I remain in awe of their tenacity and talent, and I thank them from the heart of my bottom." By the way, the other players on this album are drummer Chuck Darling (Nineveh Project) and Celtic fiddler Victor Gagnon (Seven Nations, Rathkeltair) in a guest spot.
So..., we have here a nicely dressed up, diverse collection of folkrock with various influences. Asked for comparisons I would mention the younger Roger McGuinn of course, Michael Weston King and I even hear a little bit of Firefall... Steve and his mates have to be careful not to go over the top with the "programming", this is O.K., not more! Unless they want to leave the alt.country scene and make pop albums.
First song "Wooden Hill" fades in, described by Steve as "a nursery rhyme-infused homage to a dearly departed mother". "Please Emmalene", that's the song with lots of mandolin where Steve's smart ten year-old daughter Emma sings harmony: "She managed to nail her parts in two takes, her Dad could learn something." She should be really proud of this beautiful ode, expressing the bond between father and daughter! Emma also went through her Dad's collection of Beatles albums and has three of them mounted and framed on her bedroom wall. Of course there are influences from The Beatles noticable on this album too, more or less obvious. In pianoballad (strangely ending on a fade-out with strings) "Love Is Real" for sure, but also in lighthearted memories from the schooldays "The Best Days Of Your Life" (singalong, featuring the tuba of Nigel Fortescue..., what a touch!) and "Class Clown", that's definitely the famous McGuinn guitar sound there too!
"Wasted And Waiting", according to Steve "a tale of drunken excess, emotional disconnect and failed ambition", is my favorite song on the album. Great guitars, great harmonies and awesome lyrics: "He is wasted in more ways than one / As he makes big plans at the bar" and "What can you say about the one that got away? / How can you catch a falling star?" Again an unexpected ending, a sort of Irish dance tune fiddling & fading out. "Forget About Love" is more of a catchy, driven rocksong, inventive arrangement with the various instruments stepping up to the mic. "Road To Ruin" is being described as "a rather disquieting strangled-folk rumination on global religious conflict". I would just say: a ballad with some slightly psychedelic sound effects in the background. "Boring God" also has an interesting arrangement featuring a wide variety of instruments and sounds, a complicated description too: "an apologetic lament on rampant materialism and religious hypocrisy in a celebrity worship culture." Nothing to add here, except this very cool line from the lyrics: "Lap dogs howling in your slipstream". Last track is delicious acoustic "I'm In Trouble Again" with an Irish flavor.
My conclusion? Definitely an impressive achievement! I'm curious about the guitars though, can't really figure out what Steve and Ed play from the info on CD or website. Maybe Steve owns one of those gorgeous Rickenbackers, endorsed by Roger McGuinn??
Written by Johanna J. Bodde, July 2007.