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Steve Robinson and Ed Woltil - Shadow Play

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 7 / 1 / 2023

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


Second album from ex-Headlights and Ditchflowers members Steve Robinson and Ed Woltil provides a dozen slices of perfect pop perfection and is one of 2022’s best

The long-awaited follow-up to Steve Robinson and Ed Woltil’s ‘Cycle’ has finally seen the light of day. Seven long years it’s taken for British ex-pat Steve Robinson to cut a whole album worth of songs with Floridian Ed Woltil. Not that they’ve been idle in the last few years. Woltil issued his second solo album, ‘One In My Tree’ in 2020 and attempted to release a single a month during 2021 just missing his target in the final quarter. Robinson released the ‘Swallowing The Sun’ album in 2021, another eleven songs highlighting his knack of combining addictive melodies with astute lyrics once again. Those who have heard Robinson and Woltil’s music before will not need reminding just how uplifting and inspirational the sound (both together and solo) these musicians make is. For those new to the duo reading the various descriptions of their music which have frequently been used can be slightly confusing. ‘Masterful orchoustic pop’, ‘power pop’, folk-rock’, ‘Americana’ ‘folky pop’ have all been bandied about and all are quite fitting but at the end of every album one thought remains; Robinson and Woltil, while taking frequent over the shoulder looks at the classic pop of the ‘60s and ‘70s have fashioned a sound of their very own which can simply be described as gorgeous. It was a struggle which this writer lost not to mention the Beatles while writing about ‘Cycle’ but it was unavoidable. While initial thoughts of Robinson’s songs and, at times, vocals, veer between all three Beatles who held guitars Woltil adds more of a Lennon-type edge to the proceedings. Maybe it’s a coincidence but the release date for ‘Shadow Play’ was just a week before the revamped ‘Revolver’ box set hit the shelves so what many believe to be the best Beatles album was maybe going to take preference over ‘Shadow Play’ especially in its new, modern clothes. The Beatles were already in this head-space. But while Giles Martin has done his usual magic and proved once again that The Beatles made timeless, intelligent pop music, ‘Shadow Play’ won out as the album to go for. So instead of Liverpool lads, in 2022 we have Robinson, another northern Englander, and American Woltil carrying on the tradition of making the type of pop heaven that The Beatles birthed and these two talented musicians are taking to a new level. Housed in a usual (for Sunshine Drenchy albums) Ed Woltil designed gatefold CD wallet which is a work of art alone, ‘Shadow Play’ kicks off with a mass of acoustic guitars and Robinson’s warm vocals and it’s immediately apparent the duo have lost none of their talent for writing perfect, summery pop songs. At times, despite their lyrics being thoughtful and deep, the sound that they produce can’t fail to raise the listener’s spirits even on the gloomiest of days. Woltil’s electric guitar playing is as addictive as the harmonies and melody. A cracking start to the album which bodes well for what is to come. ‘Kickstart’ follows showing that edgier stance that Woltil brings to the duo’s music. While it brings a darker hue to the sound those harmonies are still as gorgeous, outstanding in fact. Once more the song benefits from some searing electric guitar from Woltil (or is it Steve Connelly?). ‘Life On A Trampoline’ is pure, classic Steve Robinson, exactly what we have become to expect from him. Bouncing along as the title would suggest it’s one of those songs that will take some time to shake out of your head, should you want to. Complete with electric guitar from XTC’s Dave Gregory and Steve’s daughter Emma on background vocals it’s another shining pop gem. Both Emma and Dave Gregory return on the following song, ‘Ultramarine’. It’s not only Gregory’s magnificent guitar work which makes this song a standout on an album where it’s impossible to choose just one track as a favourite, but it’s the production (Robinson and Woltil), the mix (Woltil and Brian Merrill), the harmonies and the overall atmosphere the song emits. The whole thing leaves the listener breathless. This isn’t throwaway instant pop; it’s music that will live on forever, solid intelligent pop music. The ending is just magnificent. Another of Woltil’s songs has the maybe worrying title of ‘On The Way To My Appointment With Death’, but it’s a clever little story of a life, and while it’s usually one of Robinson’s songs that will have this writer welling up with tears Woltil takes that honour here. The strange thing is that it’s not morbid; there’s a lot of truth in there. Again the production lends itself perfectly to the lyrics and the vocals are absolutely superb. As an aside, Woltil mentioning his daughters in the song had me reaching for ‘Everything At The Same Time’, an album his daughter Evie Richner released a couple of years ago and while musically in a different space to her father’s music here is well worth checking out. ‘The Way You Love Him’ is Robinson in love-song mode. This is where those Beatles influences shine; brilliant vocals and another unforgettable melody. ‘One Day Never’ is another love song that brings to mind a certain Beatle in its composition and arrangement highlighting once more just how good these guys are, it’s just perfect. ‘Vulgar Tongue’ is the most experimental track on ‘Shadow Play’; Robinson’s vocals over a Celtic-inspired backing add a slightly dark feel to this most surprising song on the album. Again, the delivery is outstanding. ‘Lifeboat’ is another catchy tune; there’s something about Robinson’s vocals that draws the listener in; maybe it’s the fact that he’s lost none of his Englishness but through the years it’s been slightly affected by his time in the States. It’s like listening to a friend who you haven’t heard from in years yet carrying on the same conversation. ‘Make Amends’ just wraps itself around the listener closing the album on a warm, happy note. Another gorgeous melody displaying just what makes this duo so great, a vocal performance from heaven, it leaves you wanting more of the same. It would be nice to see ‘Shadow Play’ mentioned in those Best Of 2022 lists which will appear soon because it belongs there. It’s a solid set of pop tunes, expertly played, produced and lovingly put together.

Track Listing:-
1 Chasing Angels
2 Kickstart
3 Life On a Trampoline
4 Ultramarine
5 The Way You Love Him
6 One Day Never
7 Vulgar Tongue
8 On the Way to My Appointment With Death
9 Lifeboat
10 Shadow Wall
11 On Your Side
12 Make Amends

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