(Blue Corn Music)
Once hailed as the New Dylan, Steve Forbert has a new album
being released on the same day as the new Dylan. Unlike the gigantic figure of
the original Dylan, Forbert has chosen to refine and refract his style over the
33 years since hitting the pop charts with his one and only major success,
“Romeo’s Tune.” Outside the shining lights of celebrity, Forbert has presented
fourteen studio albums and an uncommon number of live recordings full of
focused, intelligent, and sharp songs. While Dylan reshapes his music every
time he sings, Forbert seems more interested in finding the exact best way to
deliver the words and tunes he wants to share.
Over With You contains
ten exquisitely shaped new songs. Forbert works with a top-shelf band of
players on this record, including the great Ben Sollee on cello and bass, the
very talented Jason Yates (once of Ben Harper’s band, and in the liner notes of
many fine records this past decade, including two of his own) on keyboards, and
studio veterans Sheldon Gomberg and Michael Jerome on bass and drums
respectively. Ben Harper stops by to lend some tasty, understated guitar to
three songs, as well.
With the confidence that comes from being underscored by
musicians so devoted to presenting the material in its best light, Forbert sings
in his signature style, full of sibilance and stretched consonants, marked by
the occasional filigreed ornamental notes on the vowels. His phrasing is
uniquely his own, and it’s something he’s never lost after all this time. While
his voice is slightly gruffer now that he’s 58, long-time fans will immediately
be comforted by that warmth and familiar approach. Those listening for the
first time will simply be impressed that someone can make internal rhymes flow
so effortlessly, and use frequent rhythmic surprises to emphasize lyrics of
uncommon wit and emotion.
“All I Need to Do” is the first pick to hit on this record,
as Forbert simply declares his determination to replace the woman who is
dumping him with somebody exactly like her. “All I really need to change is
just the seven letters of your name,” he sings, drawing out the sounds in seven
to show us just how important that name is to him. The song opens with an
electric piano sequence which recalls “Right Back Where We Started From” by
Maxine Nightingale. Why not borrow an old hook, especially when it fits the
tone, and he’s got new hooks of his own to add to it?
“Don’t Look Down, Pollyanna,” besides owning one of the most
intriguing titles in the history of popular music, is another delight to hear.
Sollee’s cello is particularly lovely here, presenting a gorgeous melodic intro
over a bed of gentle rhythm. “You feel as if you’re over a barrel / You think
you’re getting close to the edge / You hope there might be somebody there who /
Will get you talked back off of the ledge.” Forbert actually makes the “rel”
syllable of “barrel” rhyme effectively with the way he sings “who.” The song
walks the line between nostalgic pleasures, future dangers, and the confusing
present, all while sounding simply beautiful.
One more song deserves mention simply for the cheek it took
to write “Metal Marie” over the chords to the familiar Canon in D by Pachelbel.
Modulating this section up and down, and alternating with a quasi-reggae chorus
that sounds more like it should be a bridge, Forbert provides enough variety to
make it sound fresh. And his tale of a 33-year-old man leaving a woman over 50
is a warmer and sweeter take on the sort of thing once outlined more harshly in
Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May.”
The differences between Steve Forbert albums are slight. His
very consistency may make it difficult to attract attention. This is not a
return to form, or a wild new approach, just another Steve Forbert album, which
means a very good thing to have in the world.