Music

Steve Forbert: Alive on Arrival / Jackrabbit Slim

The foremost virtue on each of these albums -- musically, lyrically, and especially vocally -- is Forbert’s exuberance, the unabashed joy of discovery he makes palpable on nearly every one of the tracks here.


Steve Forbert

Alive on Arrival / Jackrabbit Slim

Label: Blue Corn Music
US Release Date: 2013-03-26
UK Release Date: 2013-03-25
Amazon
iTunes

The 'new Dylan' mantle is probably the most damning comparison in pop music. It inspires almost immediate skepticism, and it saddles the anointed with an impossible burden. After all, Dylan never went away and he hasn’t yet (and the way things have been going lately, he never will -- have you heard Tempest?). To boot, it’s a lazy signifier. When critics or publicists break it out, they invariably mean only that the so-called “new Dylan” has an unusual voice, nebulous folkie leanings, a certain way with words, or all of the above.

When Steve Forbert arrived on the scene in the late '70s, he too was given the dubious honor and it haunts him to this day. Look him up on AllMusic and you’ll see it right there in the first line of the bio. The liners to this deluxe repackaging of Forbert’s first two albums allude to it, too. And given what we know about the comparison, it’s pretty easy to see why folks were and continue to be so loose with it. On both Alive on Arrival, Forbert’s 1978 debut, and Jackrabbit Slim, the 1979 follow-up, we hear a guy with a strange voice, an acoustic guitar and lots of words.

Here’s the thing, though: if you actually listen to the records, it becomes clear that the two share only these very broad similarities. What we have in Steve Forbert is a quite different kind of artist, one who positions himself in almost total opposition to Bob Dylan.

Alive on Arrival kicks off with the gorgeous “Goin’ Down to Laurel”, a shimmering piece featuring bright acoustic guitar, lovely piano, loping bass and a melancholy steel guitar chiming just below the music’s surface. Most importantly though, there’s his voice, irrepressibly young, playful and earnest. Forbert’s lyrics, at once knowing and naive, are perfectly fitted to that voice, mirroring the charm of its peculiar grain: “Well, I’m goin’ down to Laurel / It’s a dirty, stinking town, yeah / But me, I know exactly what / I’m going to find." Simple stuff, to be sure, but it perfectly captures that critical moment when one’s personal confidence and optimism (the singer knows exactly what he’s going to find) come up against the hard, often antagonistic, facts of the outside world (i.e., the dirty, stinking town of the song’s title).

Alive on Arrival is bursting with such gems. “Steve Forbert’s Midsummer Night’s Toast” is a stripped back counterpart to the lead cut, boasting wonderful lines about “roads of burning tar and hot cement” and “money in my hand and where it went”. “What Kinda Guy?” is driving rockabilly, an excellent formal choice that plays to the strengths of Forbert’s voice, which is given naturally to the genre’s hallmark mannerisms.

Jackrabbit Slim is every bit the equal of the debut. As an album, it’s marked by a more varied sonic approach, thanks no doubt in part to the guiding hand of producer John Simon (perhaps most famous for his work with the Band). Where Alive on Arrival is dominated by a fairly basic folk pop aesthetic, Jackrabbit Slim incorporates electric guitar, organ, horns, and a backing chorus. More often than not -- I’m thinking “Romeo’s Tune”, Forbert’s lone Top 40 hit, “Make It So Real” and “The Sweet Love That You Give” (dig that horn section) -- the accompaniment and production work smashingly well, providing counterpoint to Forbert’s voice and words, which are as strong here as they are on the debut. As can be expected when any artist pushes against his or her creative comfort zone, there are missteps here. “Complications” is the most obvious offender, suffering from a rote reggae attack.

Ultimately, however, both Alive on Arrival and Jackrabbit Slim are excellent albums, and they might well be classics of their form. The Dylan comparisons I mentioned earlier quite simply miss the point, as they usually do. The foremost virtue on each of these albums -- musically, lyrically, and especially vocally -- is Forbert’s exuberance, the unabashed joy of discovery he makes palpable on nearly every one of the tracks here. Dylan’s virtues are many, and I’m as big an admirer as any reasonable human being can be, but he certainly can’t be lauded for the same. Dylan has always been about mystery and distance. Forbert’s approach is all about openness of heart and inclusiveness. On that level, he’s without peer, as this package amply demonstrates.

8

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image