Review – Steve Robinson – Back Roads

(Self Release) Over the course of his 57 years, native Long Islander Steve Robinson has been something of a jack-of-all-trades. He’s worked at everything from being a carpenter to an English teacher, a fisherman to a truck driver, an air traffic controller to a computer programmer, and pretty much everything in-between. Through it all though, music has always been a big part of his life and he’s been a fixture on LI’s original music scene for some time. He has an affinity for acoustic and roots/Americana based music, citing as among his favorite songwriters are John Hiatt, Delbert McClinton, Steve Earle, Guy Clark, Kevin Welch, Paul Brady and, currently, Jimmy LaFave and Slaid Cleaves. His live performances reflect that as along with Steve’s own original songs, he often peppers many of their songs, among others, into his sets. 

Despite this well-respected singer/songwriter’s lengthy tenure on the music scene, Steve has just gotten around to recording his first release, Back Roads. The album contains 12 of Steve’s original songs that run the gamut of roots music- blues, country and folk with occasional touches of soul and jazz, often mixed and matched in varying combinations.

Back Roads opens strongly with a shuffling roadhouse ramblin’ man blues, “Finding My Baby Blues,” that features some mighty tasty slide guitar work that gives the song a swampy delta feel. Steve shows off some outstanding fingerpicking and soulful vocals on the “rock on down to save your soul” N’awlins flavored boogie, “Mama’s Place.” The easy, laid back arrangement gives it a warm, toe tapping, back porch feel. Although the bulk of the album leans towards a quieter, more acoustic based sound, Steve does plug in and crack things up in a few spots. “Son Of The Night” is a dark, powerful blues-rocker that swirls around a man tormented by his inner demons. As harmonica relentlessly wails in the background of the percolating melody, it serves to accentuate the desperation of a man spurned by the untrue “Lucinda,” the tale of a woman who’s driven her jilted lover to murderous thoughts. A real standout,  “Little Rock And Roller” is a driving, down & dirty electric blues that advises there comes a point in time when it’s best to bow out gracefully.

Another gem is “Forever And Always,” a serving of heartache served up with a smoky, swaying, late night lounge feel. In the sterling country-blues title track, “Back Roads,” Steve paints a vivid, melancholy portrait of a lost soul, the quiet pain of a man’s desperate search of that elusive “something to hold onto.” Some fine old-time country fingerpicking gives “Honeysuckle Breeze” a lazy back porch feel, while fiddle adds the same touch to the breezy, “Wake Up.” Family inspired a couple of Steve’s songs. A soulful, mid-tempo rocker, “Every Minute” is a lovely, heartfelt (not saccharine) love song inspired by his wife of 35 years, Ellen. “Little Bit Of Heaven” has one of the album’s most intriguing melodies. Steve combines a gentle bossa nova beat, luminous piano, and tender vocals that wrap themselves warmly around the reflective lyrics, resulting in a captivatingly pretty song that was inspired by his grandchildren. The album’s true highlight and most stunning song is the gorgeous, “I Could See It In Your Eyes.” This heartbreaker is a soaring ‘50s Orbison style ballad with an infectious beat keeping time as guitars swell with the mournful ache of a love that’s been lost.

Steve Robinson is one guy with talent to burn. He possesses a pleasant, laid back and expressively soulful voice, he’s a gifted musician who plays with diversity and passion, and has a talent for well-written lyrics and an ear for a great melody. With veteran producer Bob Stander at the helm, along with the contributions of a seasoned group of backing musicians in the studio, together they’ve crafted a solid album with just the right amount of polish that leaves no doubt about Steve Robinson’s talent, from the album’s first note to it’s last.

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©AnnMarie Harrington TakeCountryBack February 2006

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