It is easy to understand why Steve Forbert's Alive On Arrival was a hard sell in 1978. The '60s had given us singer-songwriters like Dylan, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, and Laura Nyro. The early '70s had given us tie-dyed troubadours of both genders like James Taylor, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young. All of these artists were considered voices of their generation. They reflected and helped shape the views and tastes of their times.
By 1978 this breed of performer was largely in the rear-view mirrors of disco divas on one side and punk minimalists on the other. Where would a songsmith like Steve Forbert fit into the mix? Well, with the exception of his 1980 hit "Romeo's Tune", he simply didn't make much of a splash. Back then, he seemed a talent building his resume, waiting for his time to come. In a sense, he arrived too late to ride on the Greenwich Village/Laurel Canyon folk rock waves and too early to be marketed as Adult Contemporary radio programming.
Now it's 2013 and Forbert's first two albums, Alive On Arrival (1978) and Jackrabbit Slim (1980) have been re-issued together in a new collector's set, augmented by a dozen previously unreleased tracks. Now Blue Corn Music hopes the time might have finally arrived for Forbert's early work to be appreciated. After all, he's recently gained some notice for his Grammy-nominated Jimmie Rodgers tribute Any Old Time and 2012's critically acclaimed Over With You.
Seems to me they're probably right. While very different animals, these two albums are easy on the ears and likely to appeal to listeners who feel a bit out of step with harder-edged contemporary sounds. For example, you can hear Forbert's countrified Mississippi roots in the jaunty "Goin' Down to Laurel," the opening track of Alive On Arrival. The wheezing harmonica is one reason for the early Dylan comparisons, just as with the long-line lyrics in "Steve Forbert's Midsummer Night's Toast," which evokes the Woody Guthrie-inspired talking blues of old.
According to publicity for the reissue, Forbert chose Steve Burgh to produce the album because he didn't want an overproduced sound, so he avoided overdubs and reverb. As the foot-stomping on "What Kinda Guy?" signals, this was intended to be a bare bones début. Apparently it was Bonnie Raitt who convinced Forbert some reverb would enrich the sound, and he agreed.