Well, it sure has been a long time between gigs for Steve Forbert and me! And what a pleasant surprise to find that in all those years he’s remained the unpretentious, home-spun philosopher he started out being way back in 1978. Maybe a bit mellowed now from his former rocker days, but he can still get people up out of their seats. Like Springsteen, age just doesn't damper some rockers.
With his very appealing and gritty voice, Steve's style – a blend of rock 'n' roll, country, folk and R&B – gives him an unmistakably American sound which is as listenable as it is good. His gift for spinning a musical yarn is, if I had to compare, is a bit like Mark Twain grafted with John Prine; toss in some Tom Petty and you've pretty much got the picture.
Steve is a songwriter with an easy-going introspective, who, at his beginnings, was like a lot of other talented singer/songwriters who happened to play acoustic guitar and harp-on-a-rack, he was touted to be the ‘next Dylan’. A hefty handle for a young 21 year old kid from Mississippi to try to step into. What critics and reviewers learned over time however, was that he really didn’t have to be the ‘next Dylan’ because he could hold his own in those lofty ranks without becoming anyone else but Steve Forbert.
No, he never reached Dylan super status, but then neither did many others tagged at their start. Few, if any but Dylan himself, ever do. But Steve's certainly carved out his own distinct niche with a career which was never compromised – a career that spans nearly 30 years now. And as I learned last night, he still has the ability to make you sit forward and get caught in his songs.
He arrived at the World Café in Philly backed by a really solid four man band called The Sound Benders, comprised of a bunch of longtime back-up musicians and new collaborators touring with him this year. And as Steve was 30 years ago, he still is today; an affable entertainer who looks out not over his audience, but at them, and muses out loud in folksy vignettes that show him to be as canny and ingenuous as ever. He drew the audience into every tune and the room became his backup singers… and dancers. Now that he’s gotten older, he can reflect on both his history and the worlds as well. And all the pitfalls and peaks.
He delighted everyone by doing his older songs like "Goin' Down To Laurel" and "Romeo's Tune" mingled with his newer songs like the fun "Middle Age" and previously unreleased "Schoolgirl".
It was so obvious to everyone in the room that he too, was enjoying everyone there. He hasn’t tired of any of it. So refreshing to see him wrapped around what he was doing today as much as he had 25+ years ago. You cannot say that about a lot of entertainers. I suggest that if anyone has the opportunity to go and see him, do it without hesitation.
And for those who don’t yet know him, you will get the opportunity to hear a couple of his songs in the new Nicole Kidman film Margot at the Wedding this fall. It seems that after all these years Hollywood has discovered what some of us have known a long time.
Steve Forbert is a unique talent that’s here to stay.
I can’t close this review though, without mentioning Steve’s opening musical guest, Jake Brennan. Though appearing solo, he made enough music that you didn’t really notice. I do believe we’ll be watching and listening to Jake for a lot of years to come too. Like Steve, he carries no pretension, but just pure enjoyable music. To quote Jake, “Some guys are plumbers, some guys fix cars, and I sing songs. And I write 'em. That's it."
He sums it up much better than I could.