Moving Through America is an apt name for Steve Forbert’s latest record. Not only does the title track concern a road trip through the heart of the United States, but the rest of the material also indicates that the singer-songwriter never stays still and has been everywhere. Forbert locates his narratives in small towns and big cities, the East Coast, West Coast, Midwest, North and South, and more. Place is important. It not only adds color to his tales but deepens them.
Forbert’s descriptions offer vivid commentary. It matters whether someone is a drug dealer in Lafayette, Louisiana, or the cement battleship Palo Alto was mothballed and sent to Aptos, California. The seemingly banal details insinuate a sleazy charm. The Mississippi native also goes back and forward in time. He recalls the coin, the buffalo nickel, old kitsch kulture like the domestic comedy/TV show/bestseller “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies”, Florida Sunshine Tree promotional commercials, and Rick James “Superfreak” with equal aplomb.
The combination of being in motion, grounded in place, and reminiscing about the past to see where the present fits in can be best heard in Forbert’s tribute to Tom Petty, “Say Hello to Gainsville”. Forbert appropriately namechecks Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and “Freefallin’” as the contemporary musician ponders the nature of time passing, rock ‘n’ roll, and what it all means. Through the use of repetition, Forbert suggests nothing ever changes, and everything changes. The best one can do is appreciate the good memories and enjoy the present moment while one can. He expresses himself with an aural wink and a winsome smile.
Life might all be a cosmic joke. The common philosophy of Forbert’s characters is that life is funny. He humorously ascribes this to a canine in “What’s a Dog Think”, but it’s clear the songwriter understands that human beings are just as clueless about the meaning of life. In other songs, Forbert proclaims the virtues of food and love (“Fried Oysters”), the cheap quality of things (“Times Like These”), and how easy it is to get lost in the confusion of modern existence (“I Can’t Get Back”). These songs share shifting guitar lines that keep the listener caught up in the rhythms even when the lyrics go off-track. It’s all part of Forbert’s keep things constantly moving musical process.
Well, that and his charismatic raspy Southern voice. There’s something special about how the singer sounds pained and relieved while singing his tales of America. It’s somehow innocent and dangerous at the same time.
Forbert’s been making albums since 1978 and has toured even longer. He’s put out a lot of music, earning some gold records and Grammy nominations, and continues to spend the bulk of this year playing live. Forbert has always been a story-telling troubadour. The 11 tracks on Moving Across America show his skills as a songwriter and a performer are as sharp and strong as ever. Listening to the record is like taking a trip across the US with a local at every stop who can tell you the inside scoop.