Review: Mike Tramp Stray From The Flock

Target Group (Mar 1st 2019)

Reviewer: Stephen Brophy

Former White Lion and Freak Of Nature frontman Mike Tramp has continued to forge a recording and touring career in recent years, often with a one man acoustic show and more recently back with a full band, but whatever he has turned his hand to you can always be guaranteed honest heartfelt music.

Stray From The Flock‘ is the latest release that follows a similar creative vein to recent album releases, so if you are looking for a return to the 80’s/90’s then I’m afraid you are looking in the wrong place, this is a different era, a different artist who continues to prove he is a very strong songwriter, storyteller and live performer, that is more than enough for me. Besides Mike has been making Solo albums for 22 years now, far longer than the life of the other bands he played with.

Having witnessed a number of Mike’s shows over the last 6-7 years he has managed transform that feeling and power from the stage to the studio, and transformed the purely acoustic songs to a full band mix that works. What we get here are 10 stories, that feel like they are coming from personal experiences, and certainly nothing wrong with that, The duet on closing track ‘Die With A Smile On Your Face‘ drips raw emotion.

If there is one criticism I would have of this new release it is that perhaps there could have been a couple of changes in pace dotted around here and there certainly adding a rocker in the first few songs would help grab the attention of more casual listeners, that’s not to say everything cruises along morphing one track into the next, but perhaps there could have been another rocking track that breaks everything up a little.  But the quality of the songs stand for themselves and that’s what counts here. Musically everything fits, and with keyboards add a little bit more atmosphere here and there, certainly a well put together album, and again one that you pick up on different nuances on each listen.

Highlights include the excellent ‘Best Days Of My Life‘ which almost transports you to a fine summers day surrounded by friends and good times, sure we’ve heard this kind of story before, but it always depends on how it’s portrayed and this one works.  For this particular album a number of guitarists that Mike has worked with over the years have been brought in to guest, and there’s some terrific playing on this album, it doesn’t have to be blazing solos, sometimes it just has to fit the song, take ‘You Ain’t Free Anymore‘ for example, and it adds massively to the overall feel of that particular one. ‘One Last Mission‘ is a much more full on rock song, with almost a rasp in Mike’s vocal delivery, and it’s a powerful song.

Once again Mike Tramp has managed to create a piece of art, a rich tapestry of music and lyrics that intertwine and once again produce a very mature album. The direction that Mike’s music has taken in recent years has provided him with a fresh impetus it would seem and long may the creative juices flow. ‘Stray From The Flock‘ is another very good album and if you’ve been a fan of ‘Cobblestone Road‘ onwards dig in, if not or you haven’t heard any of these new recordings then set some time aside and drink it up. Mike will be on Tour in the UK in April so catch some of these songs live then.

Mike Tramp has spent a significant portion of the last twenty years studiously carving out a solid solo career for himself as a singer/songwriter. Having long turned his back on the temptation to dwell on former arena-filling glories and extremely comfortable with his chosen path, it matters not to the Dane these days, whether he’s playing a small café in some far flung town in France or a large outdoor Summer festival in his native Denmark. Mike Tramp is happy being Mike Tramp. “Many years ago I realized that going back to basics, demanding nothing and being surprised if there was a tray of sandwiches in the dressing room was the way forward,” he smiles.

I’ve played a role on stage in the past – my upbringing on Freddie Mercury and David Bowie allowing me to stand on stage and perform – but you can’t carry that rock star stuff off in tiny clubs. You have to be the same guy on stage who came in the front door, went through the crowd to get to that stage and leaves through the same route afterwards. Maybe,” he laughs, “selling a T-shirt on the way out

The audiences embraced that approach” he adds. “It was the real deal. Besides, I’m just a kid from Copenhagen who never really felt comfortable in the back of a limousine. I want to be the guy who goes out on stage and is simply the person I am, with the ability to pull the songs out of my pocket in the spirit of the moment and not just the songs I have to play.

Since first embarking on his solo journey in 1997 with the excellent ‘Capricorn‘ album, Tramp completely re-invented himself as a singer/songwriter in his own right with 2002’s ‘Recovering The Wasted Years‘. ‘More To Life Than This‘ and the double live album ‘Rock ’N’ Roll Alive‘ both followed a year later; with ‘Songs I Left Behind‘ appearing in 2004. However, in 2009 Mike reappeared seemingly fronting a new band with 2009’s ‘Rock ‘N Roll Cirkuz‘ project. Yet appearances can be deceptive….

Once I had started recording that album it took a different turn to the more recent albums I’d been making at that time. That band I’d assembled took things to a different level. It was almost akin to having a Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers feel to it, a little more energetic but not that far away from my other albums. But I was reminded on the second album (2011’s ‘Stand Your Ground‘) as to what it takes to keep a band together, especially when you’re no longer a 21 year old kid. So that’s why I took charge again on ‘Cobblestone Street‘ and in order to fully establish myself on my own again

2013’s ‘Cobblestone Street‘ began a run of albums that has subsequently included ‘Museum‘ (2014), ‘Nomad‘ (2015) and ‘Maybe Tomorrow‘ (2017) that have been consistent in their look, feel and a sound that although centres on some of the finest, acoustic based yet hauntingly melodic songs you’ll ever hear also – refreshingly so – make the odd diversion into previously unexplored territory. In the case of ‘Museum‘ that just happened to be a fantastic slice of funk rock in the brilliantly rendered ‘Down South‘.

Cobblestone Street‘ is one of the most important albums I’ve ever done” states Mike. “That’s because it took me back to where I came from.  As a kid I had no plans of becoming a rock star in a rock band, it just happened, as I had, in a way, almost a folk background. Each album I’ve recorded since ‘Cobblestone Street‘ hasn’t really run too far away from it, other than the production on the subsequent records may have just got bigger; perhaps because there’s a fuller sound”.

Mike’s new album, ‘Stray From The Flock‘, essentially takes that ‘Cobblestone Street‘ template one step further. It’s also an album that pretty much wrote itself. “I picked up the guitar and the songs just started flying out of me. I thought ‘fuck! There’s an album that wants to come out of here!’”, Tramp laughs. Mike will, of course, be touring in support of ‘Stray From The Flock‘, but as with his previous solo excursions there won’t be any explosions, moving drum risers or confetti bombs on stage. There will just be a guy standing in the middle being the real deal. That guy is Mike Tramp.

Stray From The Flock‘ will be released on the 1st of March on CD, LP, digital and cassette (!).

Recorded at Ark Studio in Denmark and mixed in Sweden by Peter Masson.

Why do you write another song when you’ve already written 500? Where do you find passion when you’ve done it all, and what is the point to record and release and new album, in a time when nothing is like it once was. I tell you why! Because it is who I am and it is what I do. I am a singer, I am a songwriter and I am a rock’n’roller. I have said this before and say it again. I am a torchbearer of my musical heroes. The seed they planted in me keeps growing and I keep going on and on”.

“The songs on ‘Stray From The Flock‘ simply poured out of me. There was no way I could stop them, I simply had  to record a new album for the songs to have a home. ‘Stray From The Flock‘ continues where ‘Maybe Tomorrow‘ ended. I have no plans of steering away from the sound and songs I have made on now 11 solo albums. I want the fans to know that when they reach for a Mike Tramp album on the shelves, no matter which one, they will always get who I am, and each and every album represent who I am, and ‘Stray From The Flock‘ is where I am at in 2019. When I recorded my first solo album 22 years ago, I made the point that I would always stand by my lyrics and my lyrics is my stand in life”.

“The musicians on the album are all my close friends who lent their talent to my music, and this time I asked many of the guitar players I have worked with through the many years, to each leave their stamp on my songs. It made it fresh and interesting.”, Mike Tramp, January 2019