Stephen SPAZ Schnee takes a stroll through some of the singer/songwriter’s best catalog releases
While he continues to record and tour, his most commercially successful period was when he was signed to Nemperor/Sony in the late ’70s and early ’80s. He released four albums (and recorded a fifth) for the label before he moved on. He’s recorded for several labels since leaving Nemperor some 30 years ago yet the majority of his output remains just as riveting as the albums recorded during his so-called ‘heyday’. Thankfully, he also releases exclusive titles through his own Rolling Tide Records imprint, which has been a great output for rare recordings and reissues. Now that a handful of those titles are now available via retail outlets, I thought it would be a perfect time to tell you about some of them…
with his third release so they threw him in the studio with the great Pete Solley. Solley was just coming off the success of The Romantics‘ first album (also on Nemperor) and their hit “What I Like About You”. While Solley’s production may not have been as earthy as Forbert’s music was accustomed to, Forbert stepped up to the plate with a fine selection of songs that still sound great today. OK, so the production is a bit condensed, but the songs are as meaningful as ever and the melodies are more direct and immediate.
Now, here is a real treat for Forbert fans! Back in the day, I read in one of the music magazines (Rolling Stone? Creem? Trouser Press?) that Steve had gone into the studio with producer Neil Giraldo (Pat Benatar) to start recording his fifth album. This was probably around ’83 or so. After that, I read nothing else about the sessions and it wasn’t until 1988 that Forbert resurfaced with Streets Of This Town on Geffen Records. With no sign of Giraldo on the album, I pretty much figured that the album never came to be (remember, this is way before the internet so there was no way I could keep tabs on music biz happenings). Oddly enough, since 1988, I had completely forgotten about Forbert recording with Giraldo…
this to his other work because I’ve been listening to the first four albums for 30+ years and then reviewing this release after only a dozen listens doesn’t seem right. What I will tell you is that this is a must-have for any Forbert fan! “Underwatertown”, “What’s So Hard About Being Alone” and “Lay Down Your Weary Tune Again” (later recorded for the album Mission Of The Crossroad Palms) are definite standouts. Since it feels like a departure from his previous albums, the songs are not as immediate and need a few spins before they sink in. But don’t worry, you’ll succumb to its charms
recordings spanning the years 1983-85. Saying this album is a sweet deal is an understatement!
Pop melody, then you ain’t heard nothin’ yet! Still trying to find a musical path that he felt comfortable with, Early On finds Forbert experimenting with a lot of musical styles – Rock, Soul, Folk, Country, and Pop. When you think of it, his later recordings were really a mixture of everything he attempts here. There’s even the original stab at the debut album’s “Going Down To Laurel” that has a different feel yet is just as magical as the well-known released version. The recording quality varies on some of the tracks here but doesn’t distract from the music being made. Listening to this album is the equivalent of reaching into your pocket and finding a bunch of precious gems that you didn’t know were there. It is safe to say that some of the songs here are the most melodic that he’s ever released. A treasure trove of unreleased material that begs for another volume!
The excellent New Liberty Half includes pre-production demos for the album The Place And The Time (2009) and a few other goodies. A bit more relaxed than the finished album versions, these demos have a nice feel to them – the freshness of new material at the demo stage is always fascinating when you are familiar with the album versions. Power Pop fans may recognize
the name Steve Allen (he of the legendary 20/20), who plays guitar on many of these tracks. The song “Fifty Three Blues” didn’t make it to the album and there are alternate versions of “Beast Of Ballyhoo (Rock Show” and “Stolen Identity”. Finally, “Set the World Ablaze” from 2011 is added to the tracklist as well. All in all, another fine release from the gifted singer/songwriter. He never ceases to amaze.
Don’t Look Down is an acoustic solo performance recorded in 2010 and 2011 and the connection ‘tween performer and audience can be felt as well as heard. Case in point: how many times has he had to play “Romeo’s Tune” live? A million times? Maybe more? Well, each and every live recording I’ve heard of that track, Forbert is still giving his all and making it sound fresh and exciting. When this set was recorded, that song was already three decades old and he still treats it as if it was on his most recent album. It might be frustrating for an artist to try to push a new album when all the audience wants to hear is the hits, but you really can’t tell with Forbert. He is truly in his element on a stage.
Get Your Motor Running finds Forbert backed by the Queen City Fever Band and it is a truly rocking show. He throws in a few surprise cover versions (Elvis‘ “Heartbreak Hotel”, Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild” and The Velvet Underground’s “Rock & Roll”, which segues into his own “You Can Not Win If You Do Not Play”) plus a nice mix of old and new Forbert gems. His old nuggets sound just as vibrant as the newer tracks and he doesn’t hold back in letting loose and having fun.
Now, what are you waiting for? Time to build up your Steve Forbert CD collection. And guess what? There’s more to come!
Peace, love and tunes,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee