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Steve Robinson - Undercurrent

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 5 / 3 / 2008

Steve Robinson - Undercurrent
Label: Sunshine Drenchy Records
Format: CD


Classic-sounding, 60's-influenced pop on second solo album from British-born, singer-songwriter Steve Robinson, whose former group the Headlights shared the same stages as the Band, Steve Winwood and the Smithereens and worked as Roger McGuinn's touring band

One of the best things about writing reviews is that occasionally an album comes along from an artist that is new to me which completely blows me away. Looking at Steve Robinson’s musical past I almost feel ashamed not to have heard of him before; he was a member of the Headlights who were not only influenced by the Byrds, Dylan and the Grateful Dead but also appeared on the same stages as the latter band along with, at various times, the Band, Steve Winwood and the Smithereens to name just a handful. It’s probably no surprise then that the Headlights eventually became Roger McGuinn’s touring band. So it would not be a great surprise either if the sound of some of those artists and bands flavoured that of English born Robinson’s solo work. But Robinson, who has been working and composing in America for the past 20 years, is so much more than a carbon copy of any of his musical heroes. Robinson writes songs that are immediately catchy, full of hooks that just won’t go away and he has that all too rare talent of taking the best from the classic pop sounds of the 60's and early 70's and moulding them into songs that sound contemporary in 2008. It’s the sound of mainstream pop that never seems to age and just like the songs from those heady days this collection of ten Robinson originals will stand the test of time. If I have any quibble at all with this album it is that at 40 minutes it is simply not long enough. For once this is an artist that should take advantage of the longer playing time afforded by the CD. Maybe next time Robinson will fill that shiny disc up with his shimmering pop melodies and make this writer, for one, a very happy man for I simply can not get enough of this music right now. Robinson has been compared to quite an array of artists, from Crowded House to REM and even taking in Herman’s Hermits along the way but the fact remains that vocally he is quite unique. That’s not unique in a Dylan or Neil Young way where you either love or loathe the vocals; Robinson is unique in that his vocals really can’t be compared to any other vocalist from the last 45 years or so of pop music. Maybe it’s down to the fact that hailing from Northern England but spending so many years in the States has given his voice an exclusive tone that many of us haven’t heard before ; it’s certainly a different but pleasant voice that opens the album with ‘Wooden Hill’ and one that takes no time at all to get accustomed to. It’s also one of the major factors as to why this album is destined never to be too far from a CD player. There is no denying that the sound Robinson produces is one that could have been made any time during the last 45 years but he adds nice folk-rock touches to that classic pop sound of the 60's and with those exceptional vocals there is enough here to hold the listener's interest over much more time than Robinson allows us to hear on this album. Which is a good thing because it makes you want to check out his previous work and also keep an ear out for whatever he does in the future. It would appear that Robinson is not over happy with some of the 60's artists he has been compared to and while it is admittedly hard to see where some of the alleged influences appear in his vocals and music the best comparison is the Hollies. Probably one of the most underrated of all the beat groups of the 60's the Hollies actually wrote and produced some fine albums and while their singles for the most part always made the charts they are never given the respect they deserve in the press today. Apart from Graham Nash, who also departed these shores to gain respect and have his music appreciated by a bigger audience, the band had a fine singer in Allan Clarke and an exceptional guitarist in Tony Hicks. The reason I’m spending so many lines on this band in reviewing Robinson’s work is that, much like it did on the Posies' ‘Frosting On The Beater’ and ‘Dear 23’, the sound and spirit of the Hollies looms large over Robinson’s album. It’s like Robinson has taken the sound of the Hollies a step further and gone in the direction that Graham Nash wanted to take his band but couldn’t due to opposition from the other Hollies. Nash then, of course, moved to the States and joined up with Crosby and Stills; the songs Robinson makes are a perfect hybrid of both those bands. Robinson possibly has the edge when it comes to writing memorable tunes though. Lyrically Robinson touches a number of subjects; from the opening ‘Wooden Hill’ which is a touching tribute to a recently departed mother, through ‘The Best Days Of Your Life’ with parents recalling their school days to the kids, to a couple of simply beautiful love songs of which the closer ‘I’m In Trouble (Again)’ is one of the best songs I’ve heard in ages. With a Celtic touch ( which a number of these songs have) added to Robinson’s already unique blending of Anglo / American folk pop the harmonies are plucked from the heavens and along with a gentle, captivating melody, lines such as “ the trouble with me is just I can’t let go, the trouble with her is she can” and “ when I’m with her I feel like a child, when I’m without her I’m old” it’s proof that here we have a major talent who, given a few radio plays with a song such as that, will soon be a major star. As I wrote in my opening, occasionally an album as brilliant as this comes along unexpectedly and reminds me why music means so much to me and those around me. Words really can’t do this album justice, it really does need to be heard especially if the sound of classic melodic pop music is close to your heart. This CD is one I’ll carry with me.

Track Listing:-
1 Wooden Hill
2 Please Emmalene
3 The Best Days Of Your Life
4 Love Is Real
5 Wasted And Waiting
6 Forget About Love
7 Road To Ruin
8 Class Clown
9 Boring God
10 I'm In Trouble (Again)

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