No stranger to the music scene, Robin Dean Salmon was one of the members of the band See No Evil, a group that released two albums that were critically acclaimed but, like damn near everything else, seemed to fall through the cracks. The fact that Salmon almost died in a motorcycle accident probably didn’t help, either. Nonetheless, Salmon survived said crash and has put out a few albums since that 1992 wipeout, including a few under the name Jack West. But a recent Rodney Crowell album seems to have been the muse that lit Salmon’s creative sparks and energies. And while he’s helped out by Mr. Crowell on one track, Salmon takes his own roots/country approach to several of these numbers.
Straddling the line between mid-tempo roots pop and roots rock, Salmon finds a nice balance on “Lonesome”, a song with mandolin and a decent series of hooks, sort of like a Blue Rodeo track influenced more by Jim Cuddy and less by Greg Keelor. Halfway through the bridge he briefly picks the tempo up, but quickly returns to the blueprint. Another fair comparison would be Charlie Major or Hal Ketchum, both singer-songwriters that found brief success in Nashville’s “Music Row” and have continued creating fine work since their heydays. Salmon has great success when he opts for a style that brings to mind current troubadours like Kieran Kane and Kevin Welch, particularly on the folksy, comforting “When You Have It All”, with its pedal steel accents. Think of how Springsteen reworked “Mansion on the Hill” in recent tours and you should get the gist of this track—a safe but solid nugget knee-deep in traditional country. From there Salmon breaks things open a bit into a quasi-Celtic sway during the chorus.
Salmon pushes the envelope somewhat with the polished and near perfect roots pop of “When I Find You”, which hits the ground running and has a gorgeously simple melody that brings to mind Alabama’s “I’m in a Hurry”, only performed at half the speed. But Salmon returns to that distant, Springsteen-like format with the fine and airtight “Baby Please Try”, which has some great vocals and even finer arrangements, despite it having a lot going on at the same time. It’s not the highlight, but by that point on the album he’s four for four, which is 100 percent for those fractionally challenged.
But he hits a slight rut with the rather hokey “Plane, Train”, which relies on a series of harmonies to sell the toe-tapping song from start to finish. Fortunately it’s quickly forgettable and extremely forgivable when the pristine and well-crafted, down-tempo ballad “Maybe I Do” saunters along brilliantly. In no hurry and allowing Salmon to cruise along with the music, this track seems to be heads, if not shoulders, above the other quality ditties here. Crowell helps out on lead vocals here, only buffering what is already a track that shines.
Salmon is able to make the right choice nearly each and every time in terms of style, tempo and all the intangibles that make great songs separate themselves from good or very good ones. A good example of this is how “Gasoline” takes a moment or two before finding its footing and coming off as a quality Steve Earle-like track that Earle, when not getting married, on tour or writing a new album, could do in his sleep. However, he seems to strike out with the crawling honky tonk of “Draw the Line”, a line that he should have drawn prior to perhaps creating this tune. An improvement is “Sympathy”, which comes off as a run-of-the-mill roots pop tune you would expect to find around this time in the album. But it ends almost as strong as it started off nearly an hour ago, with “Broken Down Car” bringing to mind the likes of Mike Plume.
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// Notes from the Road
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