We recently reviewed Steve Robinson’s current album, ‘Undercurrent’ and we were so impressed with it that we interviewed the American-based singer/songwriter about it and his musical past.

I’ve spent about four and a half decades listening to music and spending far too much time and money, according to those around me, on my obsession / hobby, call it what you will, with all things recorded. So at times I obviously get a little jaded when I hear new artists; without wishing to sound flippant it is, all too often, a case of heard it all before. Yeah, I know, I’m getting old. At times when I can find nothing new or exciting in the latest batch of releases I always turn to the music that was current when I was very young, the sounds that were drifting out of my transistor radio from the pirate stations like Radio London and Radio Caroline. Those songs were breaking new ground and reaffirm just why this music thing means so much to me. Then a new artist will often come along shortly after and I will be blown away by new music once again.

Last year an Australian singer/songwriter by the name of Perry Keyes released his second album and it was the best thing I’d heard in many a month, many a year even. Keyes is one of those artists who doesn’t so much write a song but sets to a melody little stories about folk we all know, the guy next door, the girl walking past your office each day, those people we pass in the street and wonder to ourselves who they are and where they are going and why. And sometimes those songs are about us. There’s that tinge of recognition that Keyes or whoever wrote that song has been going through exactly the same emotions as us and that we are not alone. It’s not strange that we feel or act the way we do; there are people out there who feel the same. It just takes musicians of the calibre of Keyes to put it into words for us. For me Keyes was the most important new musician I had heard in years.

But you know how it is when you wait an eternity for a bus with no luck then two arrive at once ? I’d only just got over the brilliance of Keyes last album when ‘Undercurrent’, Steve Robinson’s second solo album appeared. To begin with I simply couldn’t believe that here was another artist (and this time an English one!) who had quietly recorded a batch of songs so melodic and with lyrics on a par with the best of those songwriters who through the years have been so adept at detailing the lives and feelings of the average guy. Coupling melodies that could have been composed by Lennon and McCartney to lyrics that could have rolled off the pens of Ray Davies, Difford and Tilbrook of Squeeze or Paul Weller in his Jam days is not something every singer/songwriter is capable of. But with ‘Undercurrent’ Robinson had achieved this and more, there was a distinct 60's /70's sound to the songs on that album but it still sounded contemporary. As with all classic pop music these were timeless songs.

So it was only natural that I wanted to check out this guy’s back catalogue. See our interview with Steve to get the full story but here was a musician who left the north of England to try his luck with his music in the States, joined a band named the Headlights who toured as Roger McGuinn’s backing band and released a couple of albums in their own right. Tracking down Steve’s CDs isn’t an easy task, especially the two Headlights albums, but it’s worth the effort. Steve’s first solo album, ‘Away For The Day’ is, however, the one to go for initially. Although currently unavailable on CD it is still listed on iTunes and the Woven Wheat Whispers web site (and for very little money, it will be the best few pounds you have ever spent on music).

After living with ‘Undercurrent’ for some months now I never thought I would say this but the earlier ‘Away For The Day’ is the equal of that classic album…and then some.

Recorded entirely at home by Steve it’s far from a lo-fi set of songs, the thirteen strong set of tunes ( and they are tunes, remember when you’d hear a song and it would go round and round in your head for the whole of the day? Well, here’s 48 minutes of them) sound like they were recorded in a state-of-the-art-studio by the best producers and musicians around. That’s not to say they are over-polished. It’s just that when Steve says he recorded the songs at home and the album is a home-made affair the first thing that comes to mind is a musician struggling to make average songs sound good. This collection is so well recorded and played it’s difficult to imagine anyone producing such rich, melodic sounds at home.

Robinson’s vocals go a long way to making these songs so warm and inviting. He’s managed, even after so long living in America, to keep a certain Englishness to his singing voice at least, which sets him apart from the batch of other singer/songwriters. He has a gentle, soft singing style of his own which is very appealing.

I’m not sure how much of Robinson’s own life is in the lyrics to the songs on ‘Away For The Day’. But I’d wager that a large chunk of his words concern Robinson looking back over his life. Ok, we don’t all pack up and try to make it in the States with little more than a guitar for company but there are lines in each and every one of these songs that will strike a chord (no pun intended) for most of us. Like Chris Difford and Glen Tilbrook there is humour in Robinson’s lyrics which never fails to raise a smile.

Opening the album with ‘How The Mighty Have Fallen’ the lines “I lost my senses and found America, tuned my guitar and waited for the call” is, as I said, not something we can all relate to but the following line will put a smile on the face on anyone over 35, “I was just 21, and I knew everything, I turned 30 and forgot it all” and behind these words is one of the most uplifting melodies you will hear all year. A neat touch is the nod back to his days with the Headlights in the way he works Byrds song titles into the lyrics. If ever an album had an opening song that expertly set out the musician’s stall then ‘Away For The Day’ is that record.

The following song, ‘Bright Side Of The Moon’, shows Steve’s talent for interesting lyrics that are both clever and amusing, mentioning Baby Lemonade, Terrapin, Bike and singing about paying the piper leaves little doubt that this song was inspired by a former Pink Floyd guitarist/ singer who was also, once upon a time, pretty skilful at penning catchy melodies.

‘Golden Age Of Steam’ is as the title would suggest, an affectionate look at days gone by, to a time when not only work but relationships meant more than they do today and when folk went into things for the long haul. “And I still believe in England, and I still believe in her” harmonises an obviously homesick Robinson over another lovely melody. For the most part the song is just acoustic guitar and harmonica again, and all the more beautiful and touching for that. And, boy, can Robinson sing. His vocals really do shine on this song.

The title song details one of those days when all the kids used to pile in the car for a trip to the coast or local beauty spot. Again Robinson details this so well, and this is where the comparisons to Ray Davies and Difford and Tilbrook come in.

Elsewhere Robinson sings about his first guitar on ‘Lucky 7’, with references to T.Rex, Slade and The Shadows, and ‘All That Glitters’ also pays homage to the same bands with Robinson listing a host of glam-rock song titles in the background. ‘Weight Of The World’ harks back to school days, when we were a lot safer and happier than we realised at the time and again it’s the coupling of Robinson’s sweet vocals with a melody to match which make the song so special.

‘England’s Green’ will touch anyone who has left their birth country or even the house they grew up in or spent happy times in. it’s a song that personally means a lot to me, and reinforces the fact that we need songwriters like Robinson to write such beautiful songs and put into words and music the things we feel but are unable to write ourselves.

But if that opening shot of ‘How The Mighty Have Fallen’ showcases all that is great about Steve’s music the closing song, ‘Goose Flesh’ proves that Robinson is an absolute master at harmonies above all else. Recalling the Beach Boys and the Everly Brothers it’s an obvious nod to some of his musical heroes. Forget the High Llamas, Christopher Rainbow and the Explorers Club ! Robinson wipes the floor with all of them.

If this appraisal of ‘Away For The Day’ comes across as the gushing over zealous ramblings of a smitten fan then that’s because, in part, it is. I’ve purchased music on all the various formats through the years with the exception of the shellac 78s (not quite that old) but if there was a fire in my house then my little shiny disc of ‘Away For The Day’ would be one of the first to be saved. If you like intelligent pop music then do yourself a favour, try to get hold of a copy of ‘Away For The Day’ and let Robinson take you on a journey you will want to take time and time again.











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