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Steve Robinson and Ed Woltil - Cycle

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 4 / 5 / 2015

Steve Robinson and Ed Woltil - Cycle
Label: Sunshine Drenchy Records
Format: CD


Captivating collaborative album from British-born but Florida-based former Roger McGuinn guitarist Steve Robinson and Ditchflowers’ front man Ed Woltil

After tantalisingly posting a song titled ‘Little Regrets’ on YouTube four years ago and indicating that it was to be part of a forthcoming album, former Headlight member and Roger McGuinn sideman Steve Robinson, together with Ed Woltil (The Ditchflowers and creator of last year’s ‘Paper Boats’, one of the most melodic and lyrically sharp pop/rock albums you’ll ever have the pleasure of listening to) have finally released ‘Cycle’, the collaboration that they hinted at way back then. Issued on Florida’s wonderfully and appropriately named Sunshine Drenchy label and featuring the fascinating and lovingly thought- out artwork that has adorned all releases on the label so far, ‘Cycle’ is everything that any music fan who has heard any of the work that British ex-pat Robinson or his musical counterpart Floridian Woltil could expect. In other words, it’s perfectly produced, brilliantly played, intelligent, thoughtful pop music that defies being categorised. While both Robinson and Woltil have, with their previous bands and solo work, proven time and time again that they can capture all that magic which makes music so special with apparent ease, these dozen songs (a baker’s dozen if you include the short twenty second prelude of ‘Seize the Day’ which opens the album, and I guess we should as it forms an important part of the ‘cycle’) are without any doubt among the best songs either musician has ever recorded. Maybe a love of the same music brings out the best in the duo when they combine their talents. Robinson has never shied away from the music his country was famed for during the mid to late sixties but Woltil, being on the other side of the pond, must also have loved the sounds winging their way across the water for there is a definite Anglo-American sound displayed throughout these songs. Robinson and Woltil have been astute in assembling a few famous friends to help out here and there; label mate and guitar maestro Steve Connelly adds his distinctive lap and pedal steel to a couple of tracks, they’ve got Dave Mattacks (Fairport Convention and far too many to mention, so let’s mention his work on Shelagh McDonald’s ‘Stargazer’ album because its time should come again) filling the drum seat on two songs, XTC’s Dave Gregory supplying electric and slide guitar plus six-string bass to a couple more titles and internet sensation Emma Robinson adding her vocals to what for today at least is the most outstanding track on the album, ‘Hello, Hello (We’re Back Again)’. How could it possibly go wrong? The fact is that it doesn’t. Remember when you heard one of those classic, timeless albums for the first time? One that, as soon as that needle hit the surface of that slab of vinyl,you just broke out into a smile? You couldn’t find a reason why it made you feel good to be alive; it just did. It would have you smiling one minute and the tears welling up the next just because it sounded so good. ‘Cycle’ is such an album. The album covers so much ground it’s almost impossible to describe the delights that await the listener. For some reason it’s had the same effect on this writer as hearing ‘Abbey Road’ did the first time I heard it, but only this time I didn’t have to hang outside the shop on release day. It’s full of rich, harmonious pop music that will still sound as fresh in forty years as it does today. All the songs are credited to Robinson and Woltil. Some, such as ‘Hello, Hello’ and ‘Little Regrets’ Robinson is obviously lyrically responsible for, while others such as ‘Love Somebody’ it’s more difficult to pinpoint which musician is responsible for music or lyrics. We know from ‘Paper Boats’ that Woltil is as sharp lyrically as Robinson so lines like “You don’t need to be to be a Beatle or Bee Gee to love somebody/You don’t need permission just to let it be” from ‘Love Somebody’ could come from either writer’s pen. The same goes for the addictive melodies that the duo wrap their songs in. Both Robinson and Woltil have proven time and again in the past that timeless melodies seem to flow naturally out of both of them. A lot of pure pop through the years has been produced badly which has let the songs down, but both the playing and production on ‘Cycle’ is outstanding. The harmonies and background vocals on songs like ‘Wake Up Dreaming’ are heaven sent, the guitar playing is superb and isn’t even played by one of the duo’s guest guitarists so it’s an indication of the skill both Woltil and Robinson have on that instrument, “like chords from God’s guitar” indeed. There’s a childlike quality of wonder that radiates from this particular track. The introduction conjures up images of fairies dancing around your head, and like much of the album there’s a mystical feel to the overall sound. ‘Elastic Man’ is the best song Ray Davies never wrote. Vastly overrated anyway, this is the type of song that Davies was surely aiming for during his ‘Village Green’ era but never quite achieved. This lysergic piece of pure pop which would have been an annoyingly whimsical take on English popsike in less talented hands but in the hands of Robinson and Woltil it is a remarkable piece of work. Again, it is lyrically smart but this time it’s the music that impresses most. Dragging 1967 into 2015 is a task many take on but very few, if any, come up with results as brilliant as this. It would be good not to have to mention the Beatles while writing about ‘Cycle’ but the fact is there is really no other reference point. Following on from ‘Elastic Man’ is ‘Godspeed’, which couldn’t be further removed from the song that precedes it. It’s another melodically rich folky pop song of the type that Robinson and Woltil have perfected which has shades of McCartney running through it. Again it’s the combination of an unforgettable melody with those heavenly harmonies and background vocals that will take your breath away. We’ve mentioned ‘Little Regrets’ in other reviews. This piano-led ballad that everyone can surely identify with shows what a talented lyricist Robinson is. Lines such as “sometimes I hate myself for stupid things I’ve said/They’ve rolled off my tongue so fast/Me and my leaky head” are accompanied by such a moving musical backdrop that’s both haunting and incredibly touching. That is the thing that Robinson and Woltil have, that special something that many of their contemporaries lack; the ability to use the music to emphasis the lyrics. ‘Who You Are’ is a beautiful love song which proves that when Robinson and Woltil strip things back to basics they can still cut it and leave all the competition still on the starting block. How can these guys make such beautiful and affecting music that will stand the test of time and still not receive all the attention and accolades that their music deserves? Robinson, maybe more so than Woltil, has a knack for looking back at the past in his songs. There is an understandable feeling of nostalgia scattered throughout his work but with ‘Hello, Hello (We’re Back Again)’ he’s topped the lot. With a musical nod to his former Byrds employer and lyrics which no doubt in places detail parts of Robinson’s past, it’s a highlight on a gem of an album. The fade out, before a reprise of a fairground sound which makes sense to anyone who has heard the ‘Ride of Our Lives’ EP is simply breathtaking. ‘Cycle’ is a collection of songs that you don’t dip into and just listen to the current favourite. Every single track has so much to offer and the album works best as a whole, just like ‘Abbey Road’ in fact. Brilliant is a major understatement. Absolutely perfect is closer.

Track Listing:-
1 Seize the Day (Prelude)
2 Love Somebody
3 Wake Up Dreamin
4 Elastic Man
5 Godspeed
6 Little Regrets
7 Wintersleeping
8 The Boy from Down the Hill
9 Who You Are
10 Hello, Hello (We're Back Again)
11 Butterflies
12 Liberty Daze
13 Seize the Day

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