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Rob Drabkin | Little Steps

album review by John Powell

Rob Drabkin | Little Stepse

The last time we heard from Rob Drabkin was his double disc live set where he played all of Paul Simon’s Graceland. Before that, On These Heavy Feet had Simon’s sense of muted guitar play and melodic precision. Rob returns with Little Steps, and it’s his best work to date.

Rob’s one of those musicians that only needs his guitar and voice to enchant you, and if there’s bass and drums to fill in the space, all the better, but Little Steps is full of healthy risks. His voice is murky like Dave Matthews and like Simon, Rob focuses on the song structure, drawing up interesting imagery and metaphor.

“For You I Would Die” opens the album, resounding like a teenage anthem. The slight country slide guitar and focused, intense drums (great work overall, Brian McRae), and the introduction of organ partway through, meld into instrumentation that could bring a tear to your eye. Rob’s voice is forever straddling Michael Stipe and Matthews, but you can pick out his thoughtful lyrics eventually. “You were the night/ and I was a broken down car light/ only trying to shine through,” Rob sings over the rock groove.

Rob flexes his guitar chops more than ever, and not by soloing, but in the acoustic numbers, like on “Stay”, where he picks his way sweetly through the emo. “And the morning light fades,” he sings. “You stay/ stay with all your heart.” The vibe is similar on “Don’t Worry About Me”, which features the Colorado Symphony. Here, though, he wields electric guitar that shimmers over cascading strings. “On a cold night/ the devil walks by,” Rob sets the stage. “I can still breathe/ I stand on my own.” In four minutes the song never rises above a whisper, and it’s beautiful.

“Little Steps” first appeared on On These Heavy Feet, but returns here with horns replacing the organ line we’re familiar with. The new version is different enough from the previous that they both stand alone. I’m not exactly sure why Rob was compelled to re-record it, honestly. Regardless, it’s such a damn good song that he could probably put new versions on all his albums and we wouldn’t mind.

The best track, however, is “Down to Fate”. The tom-heavy drumming and sparse, growing guitar glitz is reminiscent of The Joshua Tree, and the lyrics are eerie, insightful, and painful. “I’ve seen good times turn into bad times,” Rob sings in the chorus, and the line buries itself in you. The song slowly, slowly escalates until it blooms. “I’ve made my peace with pain,” Rob adds on another version of the chorus.

Lyrically, Rob dances with cohesion, but usually leans more towards the mysterious. “Feeling Good Again” is an exception, and it’s the earnest storytelling that makes this song the second best on the album.

Rob Drabkin should be a name you know because he’s a hardworking musician with a love of music and a knack for making it. Little Steps is just kooky enough that he takes the familiar and re-imagines it. I’m impressed with this album and can’t wait for more.

Bottom line: Folk rock ala Dave Matthews, complete with organ and strings, and enough catchy choruses to put this puppy on replay.


 

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