Steve Robinson and Ed Woltil, two great tastes that go great together. Or separately. Their 2015 duo release Cycles was pretty special, particularly “Love Somebody” and “The Boy From Down the Hill.” Since then they’ve released solo work, like Ed’s fab 2020 album One in My Tree. And sources tell me (thanks Ed!) that a new duo record is in the works. But right now both men have got great solo efforts worthy of a deep thesaurus dive to find the appropriate superlatives.
Robinson’s Swallowing the Sun just gives me a good good feeling, like a snatch of warm sunshine somehow embedded in song. With help from Woltil, XTC’s Dave Gregory and others, the sound ranges from mid-period Beatles to XTC to classic English folky pop. The album kicks off with “Sorry Amsterdam” whose chorus sounds so mid-1970s Wings to me. From there Robinson spends a lot of time working a Beatles/XTC axis, a bit of Revolver on “Wild God” and oh so much Harrison pedal steel guitar throughout “Quiet One,” or a Mummer vibe on “Make You Mine” or Nonesuch for “Smiling Delirious.” Sometimes the two sonic pallets collide, as when Robinson has a “Lady Madonna” piano driving the playful XTC feel of “Mr. Empty Head.” “Needle in the Red” changes things up with a more Neil Finn/Crowded House style. And then there’s the folk side Steve Robinson. “Milk and a Dash” reminds me of just about every mid-1960s English beat group – Herman’s Hermits, Manfred Mann, The Hollies, etc. – whose records usually included some obligatory R&B and classic folk workouts. But they always had a delightfully earnest – very listenable – pop quality to them. ‘Bah, bah, bah …’ indeed! But then “Proud of Our Love” shifts folk genres, mining a sophisticated English folk scene I associate more with the likes of Roy Harper and John Martyn. Ten years is a long time to wait for a Robinson solo album but if Swallowing the Sun is the end product, so be it. Seems you just can’t rush this kind of good thing.
Meanwhile, as well as contributing to Steve’s just released record, Ed’s got his own album to do. In fact, all this year Woltil plans to release a new single every month, culminating in an album drop by year’s end. The project is off to a great start with the endearing slice of retro songwriting captured in “Paper Boat.” This is a kind of stylistic impressionism we might link with Paul McCartney or Billy Joel, though the song itself has an emotional depth I associate more with Randy Newman’s soundtrack work. Truly, a perfect little song given a masterful, under-stated performance.
Get closer to Steve and Ed and spend a little time with these recordings via their respective solo and joint internet properties hyperlinked above.