Over With You And Other Love Songs
The year was 1978 and I was lucky enough to land myself THE dream job for a music-obsessed post-teen. I was a record store clerk. One of the records that I loved recommending was Steve Forbert’s debut album, Alive On Arrival.
There was a glut of greatness in record retail during that calendar year. It was the year of Springsteen’s Darkness On The Edge of Town, Dire Straits self-titled debut album, Neil Young’s Comes a Time and Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model. Forbert’s Alive On Arrival stood tall amongst all of those fine records. It’s no surprise that Steve Forbert’s folk-rock ethos and literate melodicism carved out a portion of the music world’s attention. There was good reason. Forberts’ music provided a freshness that had staying power. Cut to 2012 and all the people I just mentioned are still recording albums for an audience that either grew with them or jumped on the train somewhere along the way. Like those other artists, Steve Forbert’s trajectory is still an arc in motion.
Over With You is Forbert’s fourteenth album. Depending on how you count it...there have also been nine live albums and six different compilations of hits and out-takes released over the years. Besides being a trunk-load of tour merchandise, it’s also a careers worth of songs and sounds that make people come back to see and hear him do it again. Which begs the question;
“How does an artist keep one’s attention for thirty-four plus years?”
Anyone who tries to make a living out of the music business will tell you that it’s not easy. Possessed by the gift of both songwriting and performing, Steve Forbert would be betraying that gift if he was doing anything else. Relentless touring is only part of the deal. Listen to the records he’s made through the years and you’ll hear how and why he’s kept an audience. There is an intimacy to his voice and songwriting that sounds like you’re hearing from an old friend. This new album feels just like that.
Over With You, recorded at the Carriage House in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles this year, keeps that intimacy intact. Working with award winning producer Chris Goldsmith (Ben Harper, Dan Hicks, The Blind Boys of Alabama..), the album was tracked swiftly, in just three days April 2-5, 2012. Keeping the instrumentation light and vibe set on a lower flame, both Goldsmith’s direction and song selection allows for and promotes a winning consistency.
According to Forbert, the producer had around thirty songs to choose from that included newly written material as well as some songs that had fallen between the cracks over the years. Goldsmith picked ten “relationship songs” to record for that 3-day whirlwind of creativity and the challenge was set.
Using musicians from Silver Lake and alumni of other Goldsmith productions, the younger musicians were quick to find a sonic blend that supported the emotional core of the songs. The band never gets heavy-handed but the support to Fobert’s guitar and voice remain spot-on. The sparseness of the playing feels fresh and keeps the record from sounding over-played, over-processed and overly-professional. Very often, it’s the sheen of “product” that can subconsciously make the listener tune out. No worries here. Over With You is a soulful venture from start to finish.
The album starts off with “All I Asked Of You” a first-person plea to a lover for “a chance to make it right”. Sparse but effective instrumentation is provided by a tremolo electric guitar and a distant shuffling drum beat. Each verse is a change of scenario but it’s making emotional sense as the story unfolds. The chord progression is both folky and sophisticated but the stripped down vibe of these sessions allow for the listener to hear whatever they can bring to it. It keeps the song itself upfront and in focus.
The poppy-stripped down Motown groove of “All I Need To Do” picks up the tempo but the lyric can’t hide the world-weariness of someone trying to emotionally distance themselves from a former lover. “All I need to do is find someone just like you. All I need to change are the seven letters of your name”.
The dirge-like literate pop of “In Love With You” set off by a squeaky dobro and string bass that provide an atmospheric bed for the story of love being as much work as it is play; “Trying to sort your seashells from your shore”.
While the sonic quality of this album rarely strays from the intimate acoustic guitar, bass, keyboards and drum kit that sounds like it’s just in the next room, “That’d Be Alright” steps it up with Ben Harper on an electric slide and some added tambourine smacking and handclaps. The story supports the sly title..a commonly used phrase that belies a sense of reticence.
“Baby I Know” is a lighthearted look at regaining points with a romantic partner when life is anything but romantic.. the singer is at 90% but knowingly opines he’ll get back to 100%..”You’ll see”.
The title track for this collection, “Over With You” is a sad reflection on a relationship that is at the end of it’s time, rich with detail over both the good and bad. Seldom do relationships end with such thoughtful clarity..perhaps the only place to find it is in a song.
“Don’t Look Down, Pollyana”, a cautionary tale loaded with detail and pathos. The distant dobro and cello provide the atmosphere as Forbert sings to someone who’s life has been upended and could use a friend.
It could be the same couple from “Baby I Know” who consistently phone each other from different time zones but never find the time to meet up in “Can We Get Together”. The sentiment and execution here will ring true to anyone who knows the trials of long-distance love.
“Metal Marie” isn’t anyone I’ve ever met. I’m not sure if Steve Forbert has either, but the winning pop changes and the details of the lyric make me believe it. If these characters don’t have real zip codes, they’re real enough in the songs.
So many folk performers are long on lyric and short on melody. Forbert’s songwriting shows a sense of adventure beyond the troubadour with an acoustic guitar character that usually comes to mind. His use of great pop melodies and chord changes set’s him apart from so many of his contemporaries and “Metal Marie” is a case in point.
Closing out the album is “Sugar Cane Plum Fairy” which echoes “..Pollyana” with a with it’s storybook imagery that tells a tale both wistful and sad. Forbert’s signature harmonica get’s a turn and it feels like the perfect way to end a visit with an old friend.
When I first heard him in 1978, I had no notion of what I might be listening to in 2012. For any artist to hold a listener interest for that long, they have to have something that keeps you coming back. I know what I like and I’m glad I’m finding it in a brand new Steve Forbert record.