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An Underrated Genius
on 14 June 2015
What can I say about Steve Forbert? Well, if you're an old fart like me and want some help in recalling how great it was to be young, including the not so good bits, he's your man on Alive On Arrival and Jackrabbit Slim. If you also recall the trials and tribulations of settling down and the additional responsibilities that entailed, he's your man again on Streets Of This Town and The American In Me, also to be found as a double album named Rock While I Can Rock - The Geffen Years. If you are getting on a bit in life and want to listen to something that suits your current circumstances, Steve is again your man on Over With You.
Having first bought Alive on Arrival in 1979 and seen Steve in concert in 1980, like a lot of people I then forgot about him and his music. In the early 1990's, I heard Danny Baker play a track from The American In Me whilst also making positive comments about the album. Now, Danny Baker is what I would call a cool guy so I took my chance and bought the album on cassette. It was a good decision as both musically, but particularly lyrically, it is first class. More recently, after catching Steve in concert a couple of times, I purchased Rock While I Can Rock - The Geffen Years, on MP3 in order to get the aforementioned The American In Me in a modern format along with Streets Of This Town, which I had never heard. The latter is at least the equal of the former and testament once again to the power of Steve's song writing, both melodically and lyrically. The two albums benefit from investment in both the production and in the musicians selected to play on the records. My most recent purchase was Over With You which, although low key in comparison, nevertheless maintains a high standard of song writing throughout and is one to play if you have recently broken up with a loved one. There are, of course, many other Steve Forbert albums I have yet to investigate and I would welcome suggestions from anyone who happens to read this review.
Anyway, to Alive On Arrival and Jackrabbit Slim. To me, they are the sound of a young, talented and ambitious artist wearing his heart on his sleeve and telling it like it is. His enthusiasm for life is infectious and his lyrics speak from the heart. You can also understand them and that, to me, is one of Steve Forbert's real strengths which he appears to have maintained throughout his career. Whether he's singing about the reckless abandonment of youth (Going Down To Laurel), the darker side of life (Tonight I feel So far Away From Home), the crap life throws at you (Complications) or the inevitability of disappointment (It Isn't Gonna Be That Way), he does it with passion, empathy, humour and good grace. Anyone who can come up with the lines "It's often said that life is strange. Oh yes, but compared to what?" (January 23-30, 1978) is a genius in my book. And if you feel in need of a bit of counselling but can't afford it, just listen to Thinkin' and you'll feel better in no time at all if you take his advice.
I was born in 1954, the same year as Steve Forbert. Maybe that's why I feel I can relate to his music so easily. Or maybe it's because he's a straightforward talking poet. Or maybe it's because he's a superb songwriter with a real knack for observing life in all it's manifestations and then relaying those observations to us in a funny, moving and entertaining way. Whatever the reasons, to me he's an absolute gem!