Written by Gaz E
It was for a couple of reasons that, while preparing to review this new album from Mike Tramp, I revisited the video footage of White Lion live at The Ritz in New York from 1988.
One of the reasons, one that quickly becomes clear when first stepping onto ‘Cobblestone Street’, is just how far the famed Danish vocalist has come in the quarter of a century between bounding onto that NYC stage a mess of hair and white sneakers, and shedding his skin (and multicoloured lycra) and looking and sounding wholly comfortable in his new guise.
Another reason, on a purely selfish note, was how far I had come in that same time: y’see, once upon a time I had actually taken a photograph of ’80s Mike Tramp with me to a hairdressers where I sat, patiently, before emerging, transformed, as a highlighted rock god. Kinda. It’s a trivial, silly point, yet completely valid: if I have moved on so much from those heady, hairy days of the late ’80s, Tramp himself doing the same, then why can’t some of the fans? Why do some of those fans still pray for a reunion of the original White Lion line-up even after Tramp failed in his own quest for a resurrection of sorts that began in the late ’90s and spluttered to a halt several years later?
That attempt from Mike Tramp to reunite his former band, the subsequent work with an alternate version, came as something of a surprise, actually. Freak Of Nature, his post-Lion band, was a decidedly heavier affair, the desire to move away from the pop metal seemingly apparent. It might have been about the money, looking around and seeing the band’s once-contemporaries raking in the cash for simply going through the motions, might have been about unfinished business? Either way, the idea of trawling through the past remained with Tramp, albeit in a much classier fashion.
“I am not lost, I am not confused, I am not taking a break,” Mike Tramp was quoted as saying in the run-up to the release of this new album, ‘Cobblestone Street’, a record that marks a massive departure from the music for which he is remembered. This place, a location oft walked by singer/songwriter types, is where he finds himself today and, bravely it has to be said, has influenced him into making a quite remarkable record.
He has described the journey that this album takes as akin to viewing a movie of his life, its end providing you with details of just who Mike Tramp is. It’s hard to disagree with him. The lyrics that wrap themselves around a clutch of songs that most listeners will instantly warm to are heartfelt, love letters to a past, possibly even a catharsis in song form: the ten songs that make up the album (with bonus tracks littering variant formats) combine to form the finest all-round release of Tramp’s career.
Heavily influenced by Bob Dylan, Tramp’s version of folk-tinged balladry and acoustic story telling is actually a thoroughly more modern version of the tried and trusted formula: ‘Cobblestone Street’ echoes the likes of Butch Walker and the Black Widows, the finer points of modern Goo Goo Dolls even, passionate modern artists looking for inspiration from the masters – Dylan, Springsteen, Young.
‘Ain’t The Life I Asked For’, the album’s standout track for me, perhaps sums the record, and where Tramp is today, up perfectly: “This ain’t the life that I wanted to live/Now it is what I’ve become.” This album feels less of a reinvention, more of an acceptance of where he is today, and revels in its honesty.
The title track, lyrically, appears highly personal to the artist, the album as a whole obviously so, if a little more subtly, but listeners will pick much from the bones of the tracks as they swirl and seduce. This is a simple, yet simply effective, recording that is easy to listen to yet not easy listening.
“Now everyone can see, it ain’t the way it used to be,” Tramp sings on the album’s first single, ‘New Day’, a line I find hard to beat to close a review of one of the year’s most surprising albums; surprisingly essential it has to be noted.
Old fans should adore ‘Cobblestone Street’, should have grown with the artist and be ready to accept this tasteful, confident offering. The album shouldn’t be the sole possession of old school fans, however: listeners new to Mike Tramp may well struggle to stifle their surprise when learning of his past.
A fine return.
Cobblestone Street (CD)
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