Is Steve 'The Last Troubadour'? This is what Steve's press release asks us before going on to suggest his new release 'may be one of the most remarkable albums of acoustic music released so far this year. Powerful, different yet echoing a long tradition, it seems to have arrived full of intent out of nowhere'.
Well, Steve's promo people have set the bar very high, so he certainly has a lot to live up to!
For those like myself that may not have come across Steve before, we are told he has been on the road for over 21 years, travelled 100,000 miles and slept in half a thousand hotel rooms in this time.
For his latest album 'The Murmuring of Thieves', Steve has been joined by two musicians who make up 'The Long Road'. Chris 'The Bishop' Lydon who plays tuba, piano, cajon and organ and John Humphreys, who adds banjo, fiddle, percussion and melodeon. One additional musician is featured, Dave Pegg of Fairport Convention who plays bass on five tracks.
The album was recorded at the legendary 'Woodworm Studios' in Oxfordshire and engineered by Stuart Jones. Of the eleven tracks, nine are Steve originals and two are co writes.
The press release considers the addition of Chris and John has created a new sound, which they name 'Anglo-Americana'. It is described as mixing 'guitar, banjo, fiddle, piano, tuba and squeeze box to create a sound that is high energy, intense and rootsy'.
That's the background, so on to the music.
The opening track 'Riding The Road' tumbles in on a lovely cocktail of guitar, fiddle, banjo and tuba that really pushes the song along. It is an interesting sound, on the one hand a fairly traditional blend of folk and country, but on the other there is some quirky touches like the lovely burbling tuba that brings something distinctive into the mix. It is always good to start an album with a 'road' song to get things moving and this is no exception. Steve does not have the strongest or most distinctive voice in the world, but it has a honest and 'lived in' feel, which bring an authenticity to the proceedings.
The second song 'The State I'm In (The Mermaid Song) has a few seconds of acoustic strumming before the bass enters with a lovely little run and a burble to match the tuba! Add some fiddle and piano and the song is in full stride. I cannot see any individual track listing for musicians, but I am guessing this is the first with Dave Pegg on bass as his sound is so distinctive and set very high in the mix. No point having a great guest musician sitting in if he can't be heard!
'She's Away To The Mountains' slows things down a little and has a lovely picked banjo introduction and some effective, understated instrumentation throughout. An atmospheric ballad this one and it is my favourite track on the album.
'Run, Jimmy, Run' has another slow, courtly banjo passage before it hesitates momentarily and the band come charging in, pushing the song along on a banjo, percussion and tuba rhythm section. Sounds unlikely but is actually very effective!
And so it goes throughout the remaining tracks, all consummately played and never anything less than an enjoyable listen.
Other standouts for me are 'Big Tree' and 'London Midnight Talking'
'Big Tree' is another song with a driving riff that rattles along with a catchy banjo figure supporting the rhythm and I can imagine this one going down very well in the folk clubs.
The album closer 'London Midnight Talking' is the most inventive track here I think. It has a little acoustic guitar intro, some fine piano, another slippery bass line, a decent smattering of banjo and fiddle and shuffles along very nicely. This is a real ensemble number to finish up on and pulls the overall sound together nicely.
I enjoyed this album, decent songs, cleverly arranged and very well performed. I am not sure it will raise Steve's profile in any significant way, but I can imagine it selling very well at gigs, particularly if he tours these songs with the recording band and they all play with the energy and verve captured here.
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