I remember the first time I heard Steve Forbert‘s Romeo’s Tune (off of his 1979 release Jackrabbit Slim) in my mom’s old LTD on the way to the 1979 Tangerine Bowl. My buddies and I were driving towards Florida drinking Coor’s beer we couldn’t afford (this was back when it was an import everywhere but Colorado). I was wondering how much trouble I was going to be in when I returned home with a beer smelling and generally trashed car, when that song came on the radio. I loved it from the first listen. I bought the LP when we got back home, and I’ve been a fan of Steve’s music ever since.
I saw him live a couple of times at the Mucky Duck, and up until a few years ago when a series of live records were released, I bought most of his records. Last week, he released a new studio record, Strange Names & New Sensations. This past weekend, I gave it a listen.
The first song was clearly written to my generation. It’s called Middle Age. I thought I was back in 1979 for a second when I heard those 1979 television theme-like horns, but things quickly got a little better (horns are like Tobasco Sauce– they can make the right song much better and the wrong song much, much worse). Middle Age contains some truth about the losing battle against time, but it’s not particularly compelling. Strange Names is sort of clever, but can’t decide between being a Romeo’s Tune folk/pop number and a quasi-novelty tune. Brian Burns’ retelling of I’ve Been Everywhere (in Texas) (Mp3 clip) sets a high standard for city names songs, that Steve’s northeastern counterpart can’t match.
I didn’t know who Spaulding Gray was before he died. Steve’s tribute is probably wonderful (bag pipes and all), but neither the lyrics nor the arrangement moves me beyond the generally sympathetic place I start.
Man I Miss that Girl has a countryish arrangement, with a wistful vibe. Since that’s my menu order for a good song, it’s my favorite cut on the record. I give this song at least a 9. Maybe a 9+. This one is a good ‘un.
You’re Meant for Me is a mellow love song, which is not my preferred kind of song. Not bad, just a little boring. Same with Something Special and My Seaside Brown-Eyed Girl. If I want to hear love songs, I generally opt for the Loudon Wainwright III variety (that record is one of my all time favorites, and highly recommended).
The Baghdad Dream rocks a little, but you have to seem convinced to pull off a protest song. I like this one a little, but if you want a war protest song listen to Chairmen of the Board‘s Men Are Getting Scarce. It was overlooked at the time, but man is it powerful.
Thirty More Years has a nice folksy arrangement with a Halloween connection. I like it, but, again, the best Halloween song (and one of the best songs ever written) is Richard Shindell‘s Are You Happy Now. The instrumental Around the Bend is my second favorite cut on the record, with a nice violin track and an engaging melody. I bet he has some unsung lyrics to this one.
The last cut is a new version of Romeo’s Tune (see above). My old friend Mickey Newbury (God rest his soul) had a habit of putting his more popular songs on multiple records, but that was because he was in a battle for the rights to his earlier recordings. Who knows, maybe that’s why Steve did it. The new version sounds more “mature,” which is fitting. But I still like the original version better.
All in all, this is not a bad record. But it’s not as good as some of Steve’s earlier work. That’s not terribly surprising, as we all suffer from the passage of time. It’s just good to hear another middle aged guy still doing his thing.
Rating (5 point scale): 2.5