From pioneering punk rock in Minneapolis/St. Paul with Suicide Commandos in the late 1970s (thereby stirring the musical impulses of Husker Du, The Replacements, Soul Asylum etc.) to foreshadowing the “No Depression” movement with Beat Rodeo in the mid-1980s, singer-songwriter Steve Almaas has maintained a high standard of pop-rock craftsmanship.
The 1990s finally witnessed solo material from Almaas with three accomplished albums in East River Blues (1993), Bridge Songs (1996) and Human, All Too Human (1998), all released by Swedish label Lonesome Whippoorwill. In each set, Almaas (with the aid of notable collaborators Mitch Easter and Mark Sidgwick), managed to uphold the strong pop values he is best known for.
Finally, with Kingo A Wild One, Almaas has delivered an album to be released under an American label, Parasol Records. Recorded with the backing of The Ministers of Sound viz. Dan Prater (bass, backing vocals), Doug Wygal (drums, percussion), and Jon Graboff (6- and 12-string electric guitar, pedal steel, mandolin, acoustic guitar)—whom featured in the last release—Kingo A Wild One is as Almaas himself puts it, “a collection of songs I like. My last album expressed a specific mood and feelings. This one is made up of old and new songs that I thought would sound good in the hands of the players.”
Which I must say—is perhaps one of the self-effacing understatements of the year!
Kingo A Wild One is a pop treasure, mining as Almaas does, the rich vein of music created in the ten years before psychedelia and flower power. Think Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Smoky Robinson & of course the Beatles as the templates for the wonderful songs featured here and you will have an inkling of what I am talking about.
The wide-eyed innocence of these songs strongly evokes a kinder & gentler time when it seemed that the potential of rock ‘n’ roll and the beat was indeed limitless. Nowhere is this better epitomized by tracks like “Pretty Picture” and “More Than I Can Prove” where Almaas, with effervescence and confidence, effortlessly suggest the Beatlesque qualities found on the first two Fab Four albums. “Something to Look Forward To” and “The Better in Us” with upbeat horns and driving rhythms irresistibly lift the mood. While country-inflected rockers like “She Thought She Knew Him Well”, “Hello” and “It’s a Beautiful Day” inject a rustic atmosphere into the proceedings. Even finer, those indefinable magic moments when sheer bliss is attained without too much contemplation viz. the wonderful instrumental “When I Held Her in My Arms”, the poignant ballad “More Than I Can Prove” and the darkly jaunty “El Rey Del Mundo”.
Fresh sounding despite its debt to the past, Steve Almaas and Kingo A Wild One deserves its due recognition in the here and now.
// Notes from the Road
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