It's a very nice thing to hear how people are enjoying my new album, Only a Flight Away. I'm proud of the album and feel that it has some of the best stuff I've written on it. It is a much more complete package than my previous records which featured songs collated slowly over time, sometimes from different studios and with different producers and musicians. That had it's own charm, and both Robert Lane and Ends and Starts were a lot of fun to make and include songs that people seem to respond to in a big way. The new record was conceived, written and recorded as a singular project.
Back in late summer 2017 I started a crowdfunding campaign and was quite moved by the response. It was quite gratifying to have people prepared to spend hard earned cash on a product that didn't actually exist at that point. It made me feel like an artist of old, as if people were saying "we like what you're doing and we want you to do more. Here's a commission, go and do it!" I realised this was a pretty wonderful position to be in and it gave me a beautiful reason to plough on and get the album made. If nothing else, I now had customers to please! Nothing quite focuses your mind like knowing people have paid and are waiting to hear it. Some of the songs were things that had been floating around for a while in various stages of completion, others didn't exist at all when the recording began. I found myself writing very quickly, sometimes starting and finishing two songs between recording sessions. Everything on the album was played by either me or producer Matthew Pinfield, plus a bit of violin contributed by Lucy Phillips.
The first people to hear the album were "pledgers" who had pre-orded it in the crowdfunding campaign, then reviewers and radio shows, many of whom were kind enough to make it "album of the week" or "featured album." I toured around the UK in March and April and the album was released on the 27th of April. It was a lot of fun to play the new songs at the gigs, to both people who had already heard the recorded versions and those hearing them for the first time.
Here's a selection of the reviews that the album has received so far;
Northern Sky Magazine
With commendations from the master of English songwriting Ray Davies, Robert Lane exercises his craft once again in this third release, an album of self-penned songs ranging in style from the folk/pop leanings of The Instigator, to the rock solid band arrangement of Man of the Moment. Impressive in its scope, ONLY A FLIGHT AWAY is almost a compendium of styles, all of which demonstrate Robert's versatility as a songwriter and tunesmith. The bluesy Baby Knows could not be more different from Hoping for Anything (But You), yet they're both distinctly Robert Lane through and through.
Review by Allan Wilkinson
This is the third release from Robert Lane, a singer songwriter based in Birmingham. He has played mainly in a solo capacity in building a career that has seen him tour extensively throughout England and Germany. With upcoming tours in both Holland and Scandinavia, his momentum is building and his playing skills are very strong.
Lane has a clear vocal style and plays guitars, bass and piano on this album. He is joined by Matthew Pinfield on drums, bass and piano and Lucy Phillips on violin. The production, by Matthew Pinfield, goes for a much bigger panorama and a range of styles beyond his contemporary Folk leanings.
The instrumental opener, The Hundred House, is impressive with emotive guitar lines and a swell of keyboards and programmed backing voices. The following track, Man Of The Moment, a swipe at Donald Trump, has a very Rock driven guitar sound that reminds me of Wishbone Ash in the arrangement. There are songs that lean towards radio aspirations with the arrangement on Right By My Side channelling a Beatles/ELO string section.
The acoustic blues of Baby Knows is a song that highlights the great fretwork of Lane and on The Instigator, a finely melodic dissection of a one-sided relationship, his acoustic guitar shines brightly again. These simple Folk arrangements work best.
The message of Far Too Busy is one of frustration at the loneliness in the world and the marginalised in society; prostitution, old age and child abuse are addressed in a plea to slow down and recognise the quiet desperation in the faces of those around us every day. Take As Long As You Need is a message of support for a close friend who is going through a grieving process and is a well thought out song. The final track, Who Do You Think You’re Talking For, with just solo acoustic guitar, speaks to a friend about toning down a brash ego and taking stock.
The artwork on the album is somewhat odd and unrepresentative of the music. A more fitting image might have been to represent the song that inspired the CD title and Bill Frost’s Flying Machine, a Welsh legend about the first man to attempt to fly, is an excellent tune.
All songs are written by Lane, apart from three co-writes with musician/producer Matthew Pinfield. An interesting release that enhances a growing reputation as Robert Lane continues to hone his signature sound.
Review by Paul McGee
Following his excellent EP/mini-album, Ends And Starts, Robert Lane has been touring and writing and is back with a full length album with a startling cover design. Made on a crowd-funded shoestring with producer Matthew Pinfield again supporting on drums, bass and piano, Only A Flight Away adds one new name, Lucy Phillips, to the cast and turns the wick up.
Where Ends And Starts was largely acoustic with electric bits, Only A Flight Away is mostly electric. It opens with a bit of prog nostalgia, a short instrumental called ‘The Hundred House’ which gives Robert a chance to show off his electric guitar. At first, you may wonder what you’ve let yourself in for but Robert is a clever and inventive song writer and it always pays to wait and listen.
‘Man Of The Moment’ starts in the same vein. It’s an unveiled attack on a certain US politician but these days you can pick your own target. The clever thing is that, having blasted it’s way through three minutes it suddenly ends in a few bars of a solo acoustic something – probably guitar, but I’m not entirely sure. Having brought things down, Robert switches to the bluesy finger-picked ‘Baby Knows’ and then builds up again through the acoustic opening passage of ‘Right By My Side’ into a rich string-drenched song..
‘Far Too Busy’ has one of the best opening couplets I’ve heard in years. ”She won’t say dirty words, you find they stick in her throat/But she will do dirty things, she never said that she won’t” suggests one kind of song but I think it’s about isolation in the modern world and is probably the best song on the album. The title comes from the penultimate track, ‘Bill Frost’s Flying Machine’, a philosophical song with just a touch of whimsy, and finally we have ‘Who Do You Think You’re Talking For’, a sort of companion piece to Man Of The Moment’. Actually, this could be the best song on the album, too.
It’s a cliché, but Robert and Matthew use the studio like an instrument with multiple overdubs and tracks merging into one another. There are just three musicians here constructing a variety of sounds and styles. I doubt that this album can be reproduced on stage but the songs are strong enough to stand alone with just an acoustic guitar. This is a bloody good record.
Review by Dai Jeffries
The early albums for any artists are notoriously tricky. That first album can get you noticed and garner you a little bit of attention and a following. Then comes the difficult second album, and presuming you come out of that relatively unscathed, you have to tackle the third one. Stay in your comfort zone and you risk criticism over being too safe and samey. Try something too different, and you risk alienating those who fell for your sound in the first place. Given you could class 2016's Ends and Starts as an extended EP, this could be seen as either Lane's second or third album, which makes even more difficult. It's all a bit a tightrope walk.
Fortunately, it's a tightrope that Robert Lane walks effortlessly, throwing in some somersaults for good measure. Both the eponymous debut and the extended EP are strong releases (I loved both of them), but Only A Flight Away is an astonishing step up in quality. When Right By My Side was released as a single last year, it demonstrated a maturity both lyrically and musically, and it's nice to see it on the album. What is even nicer to see is that every other song on the album is on the same level, if not better.
Picking songs from the record to highlight is ridiculously hard. Baby Knows begins with a bluesy guitar riff that builds wonderfully, and you can't help but nod your head and tap your feet when the drum kicks in. Take As Long As You Need is heartbreakingly touching, the story of a loved one going through loss and grief, and feeling like there's nothing you can say to help, and nothing you can do except for just being there for them. Bill Frost's Flying Machine, which gives the album its title, is a gentle melodic track which focuses on Lane's vocal talents. It reaches for the sky and achieves it, soaring majestically in places.
The high point of the album comes in the second half, with the outrageously fun Hoping For Anything (But You). It's a track I've returned to again and again, and it never fails to put a huge grin on my face. This is Robert Lane as you've never heard him before, all pounding drums and rock heavy vocals, and demands to be sung along to at the top of your voice. The record ends on a more familiar acoustic sound, with the superb Who Do You Think You're Talking For. There have been some great political-tinged songs over the last year or so, and this is up there with the best of them.
To call Only A Flight Away an unexpected pleasure is a bit of an understatement. There's enough of a connection here to the first two releases so you know it's a Robert Lane album, but the musical evolution on display is staggering. Not only has his songwriting matured, but he's married it to a wonderfully produced and layered sound. All this makes for an outstanding release that may just be one of the first essential albums of 2018.
Review by Adam Jenkins
Roots and Branches
The end of the month sees the return of ROBERT LANE with his self-released second album, Only A Flight Away, one that shows a marked increase in confidence and prowess. Opening with The Hundred House, short blues guitar instrumental that calls to mind the work of Gary Moore and early Peter Green, it kicks into gutsy life with the melodic blues rock Man of the Moment, the vocals slightly back in the mix Beatles influences mingling with shades of Thin Lizzy, switching to bottleneck mood for Baby Knows, acoustic guitar underpinned by a bass drum thump and handclap percussion.
They’re a tad misleading though, with the album then switching musical tack for the acoustic Right By My Side which feels like a folksy Lennon while, backed by piano and what sounds like a cello drone, the orchestrated ballad Far Too Busy suggests Jeff Lynne back in the Idle Race days.
Featuring fingerpicked guitar, The Instigator’s another folksy acoustic ballad, woodwind (synth) briefly introducing a vaguely ethereal renaissance mood towards the end, switching to electric piano for the George Harrison colours of Take As Long As You Need before the tempo picks up again on Hoping For Anything (But You) with its clattering drum pattern, keyboards and stuttering guitar swirls and riffs driving the nagging chorus hooks. Bizarrely, it reminds me of a rock version of early Gilbert O’Sullivan.
Following a 54-second reprise of The Hundred House, it takes flight on the summery Bill Frost’s Flying Machine, a whimsical simple acoustic number that nods to the psychedelic folksy pop of the late 60s embodied by the likes of Mark Wirtz, Simon Dupree, Orange Bicycle and Kippington Lodge before ending with the crowd friendly strummed acoustic protest swayalong Who Do You Think You’re Talking For. I wasn’t fully persuade by his debut album, but this makes me a convert.
Review by Mike Davies