…to sooth the savage soul…
I’ve been meaning to start blogging about one of the things in my life that brings me true joy, music.
I have a very eclectic taste in music, and on my 120 gig Zune, you will find everything from classical (Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Bach, Vivaldi, and many more) to classic rock (Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin), from country (George Strait, Garth Brooks, Loretta Lynn) to Metal (Metallica, AC/DC), from Native American Flute to Gregorian Chants.
But I have a soft spot for independent artists, musicians who still put the music first, who write and perform from the heart, for the love of the music.
A number of years ago, I stumbled across one such guy, by the name of Steve Carlson. Now, as is my way, I had asked friends to link me up with some new music. A bunch of them sent me mixes of stuff they thought I might enjoy. One such mix had this song in it called “Pinata Novia” and it was a simple arrangement, a voice and a guitar. That voice was growly and dark, but there was this smoothness to it as well, and I could tell that this was a voice I wanted to hear more of.
So, I asked the friend who sent it who the voice was and if there was more. She linked me to a bunch of Steve’s music, and I spent the next little while pooling my pennies to buy up all of his CDs. It turns out that that recording of “Pinata Novia” was off a live CD with his buddy Christian Kane (and the growly in his voice was due to travel and gigs and the like). I discovered that other versions of the song existed and proved to me even more how much I was going to like this guy.
Now, fast forward a number of years. I’ve seen Steve in concert a number of times, both with his own band and with Kane. I have all of his CDs, including the latest, titled “Days Behind” and I thought I’d give you my review of that to start with.
Overall, I think the album is one of his strongest, though I will probably always have a soft spot in my heart for the one that came before it “Stripped Down” because it was the one he had just released when I got to see him live the first time.
He opens the album with “Don’t Go”, an up tempo song about having a good time, which, as beginnings go, ain’t a bad way to play. It has a driving beat, heavy piano and Steve’s voice entreating you to hang around.
“The Right Direction” continues the pace, telling us we’re “moving in the right direction, and as far as I can see, I finally feel I found perfection and heaven knows just what will be, as long as you’re here with me.”
“Pretty Little Lady” is a love song, but no lovers ballad. Upbeat and playful from the opening, as Steve sings about his pretty little lady. There’s some nice guitar work and the drums keep the whole thing rocking.
“Out Here Alone”…”it’s a quarter to three and I’ve got all of my friends with me…” For a song that opens with that line, this is an introspective journey into how a person who “has everything” can still feel as though he’s “out here alone”…the lyrics in this song really speak to me, beautiful and slightly haunting.
“The Good Life”…this song starts out with a soft, pretty melody, then slams into a good beat with a chorus about a “good life” while the verses tell us about anything but a good life. The song is sarcastic and well constructed with a wicked guitar and the piano smokes in Darren Sher’s hands.
“Casual Smile”…this is where we start to get into my favorite parts of this CD. Anyone who knows me, knows I tend to like dark love songs…the ones about loss and heartbreak. This song slows down from the driving pace of the first few songs, as Steve sings about the girl that he still wants, but has started to pull away. With lines like “I’m better off without wounds that I can not heal” this song is one of my favorites.
“Break Me” …this is my kind of song. I love songs about broken people, about breaking people…there are reasons that “Pinata Novia” was my gateway song into the world of Steve Carlson, and why the words to “Pinata Novia” are tattooed on my arm. This song really, really plays to that part of me. “You’re going to break me. You’re going to tear me to the ground…” Yeah, that’s the way I like it.
“Blind”…Musically, this may be my favorite on the CD. They melody is pretty, the instruments simple, but beautiful. The lyrics strike the part of me that likes a good love song, delivered with a vulnerability in Steve’s voice that finds all the cracks and shines the light through them.
“Where I’m Going”…again, I’m struck by Steve’s ability to put words together. “Please don’t stop this elegant persuasion, I’m on top, but only on occasion”…how can I not love a song with lyrics like that? Once again, Darren’s piano is smoking and Steve’s hands make that guitar sound wicked.
“Between You and Me”…another sad song, all about a past relationship and memories…”I’m sure you’re doing well. I know you’ll never tell about the girl you used to be…” And, honestly, Steve singing “don’t worry babydoll, I’ll keep it all between you and me” kinda hits me in the gut.
“Outside Looking In”…Again I’m back to the lyrics, “I’m inside out, makes it hard to hide the shame…”
“Take Time to Shine”…Steve’s voice gets a little gritty on this track, which, honestly is something that makes me very happy. Remember it was gritty, growly Steve that drew me in in the first place. This song is a little funky, a little jazzy, uptempo inspiration to remind you that it’s okay to toot your own horn from time to time.
“Days Behind”…The CD closes with the title track, a song that has a familiar feeling to it, with a message about the racing of the clock and the running to keep up. “Tick tock, don’t break the clock. I got a long way to go and I feel as though I’m running out of time…”
Given Steve’s schedule these last two years, between recording his CD, getting the recording studio he partners in with Darren up and running, running to Portland to play with Kane, and all the rest, I’m sure that last song is entirely a personal feeling for the man.
Now, how about some links?
http://www.stevecarlson.com/ -Steve’s website, with links to buy the album as well as merchandise.
http://www.thesoundparlor.com/ — The Sound Parlor, the recording studio in Las Vegas. Steve and partner Darren Sher founded this studio and together they produce lots of good music.
You can find other CDs at CD Baby and on iTunes.
Spot In the Corner
Groovin’ On the Inside
Next time I’ll look at a CD from a friend of Steve’s, Rosalee, who often sings back up for him.