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Mark Robinson

Canada's Green Highways (TeenBeat)

Indie-rocker extraordinaire Mark Robinson, head-honcho of TeenBeat Records and prolific singer/songwriter for Unrest, Air Miami, and Flin Flon, furthers his solo career in the right direction with his new full-length, Canada's Green Highways. Mark has always flirted with a solo career, but a lack of consistency and continuity has kept his solo projects in the novelty-zone. Private, holiday-themed cassettes, his "Sammy Supreme" 7", and the Olympic Death Squad full-length all featured his typically amusing, well-crafted pop songs, but in hind-sight they each stand alone as a barometer of where his direction was at that moment along his musical path.

Not to speak of his recent electronic experiments ("Tiger Banana", "Taste"), that in this reviewer's opinion, were bold steps forward conceptually, but ultimately unsatisfying in the tune department.

With Canada's Green Highways, Mark has finally hit his stride with a solo recording that not only hints at many of his previous, whimsical directions, but also succeeds in presenting his popular songwriting style in a restrained, contempoprary fashion. With the help of producer Trevor Kampman and backing-vocalist Juliet Swango, Mark has lifted the mask of conceptualism and the weight of his ever-changing stylistic direction, and has finally allowed those well-crafted songs to stand on their own in a refreshing return to form.

Fortunately, Trevor's pristine, digital production does not overshadow Mark's craft, in fact, it provides a production style similar to Guy Fixen's work on the Air Miami album, in a way that provides a simple electronic-pop production that acts as the glue that holds the talent together. The core of Canada's sound is guitar and vocals, plain and simple. Here and there, like on "Sylvian Cote'", multi-tracked guitar gives way to rhythmic vocal samples and a smattering of drums. And if you blink you'll miss Trevor's subliminal synth compliments.

But for the most part, the production allows the spotlight to fall on the essence of Mark Robinson's songwriting: tight melodic bass lines, staccato jangle-pop guitar licks, and Mark's sing-along, slogan-esque lyrics that are probably best overlooked for their meaning. My favorite one of which repeats, "...severed contact lenses, cataracts and power drills." The hit single on Canada's Green Highways is undoubtedly the duet with the Rondelles' Juliet Swango, "100% Guaranteed". This track, reminiscent of his Olympic Death Squad rock anthems, highlights the collaborative effort between all the parties involved, and the trio really shines as a unit on this rockin' track.

In short, Mark Robinson has created, arguably, his first definitive solo recording. It's a solid slice of vinyl from start to finish that brings out the best of his songwriting ability and lyrical wit, and one that stands up to the best efforts of his bandleading past, and easily trancends his previous solo efforts.

- SK

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