Steve Forbert – Over With You (2012)

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Still witty, if a little more weathered, Steve Forbert returns with a full-band album marked by this notable spaciousness. There’s a thrilling willingness to let things play out.

Credit for that, in many ways, goes to producer Chris Goldsmith (Ben Harper, Big Head Todd, Charlie Musselwhite, Ruthie Foster), who not only narrowed a stack of songs down to the 10 originals on Over With You, he also hand selected the sidemen — a group including Harper, cellist/bassist Ben Sollee (Bela Fleck, My Morning Jacket), pianist/organist Jason Yates (Ben Harper, Natalie Merchant), drummer Michael Jerome (Richard Thompson, John Cale) and bassist Sheldon Gomberg (Rickie Lee Jones, Warren Zevon).

They are the perfect accompaniment for a thinker of such specificity and grace in that each knows what to play and — far more importantly — what, and when, not to play. His backing band brings a lot of new things out of Forbert: Whereas before he could sometimes come off as more wry than real, on Over With You there is a sense that he is giving himself over to the songs. Meanwhile, the Grammy-nominated Forbert’s attention to lyrical detail has lost nothing in the intervening years since he had a No. 11 hit in 1980 with “Romeo’s Tune,” as the Mississippi native drills in with searing force on the trials and the tribulations of love. Together, they’ve created the best thing Forbert has done in perhaps three decades.

“All I Asked of You” begins amidst this desolate quietness, with Forbert — once this warble of fresh-faced lyricism — sounding broken, barely singing at times. It’s an opener as ominous as it is unexpected. A quick reminder of past joys follows, however, in the electric piano-driven “All I Need To Do,” which finds Forbert seemlessly returning to the shy romanticism of “Romeo’s Tune.”

And so Over With You goes, recalling all of the strengths of a career that now includes some 15 albums, even as Forbert continues to push his craft.

“In Love with You” is as sparse as a country blues, and it has a moaning vocal to match. “That’d Be Alright,” on the other hand, sounds something very like the modern-day Dylan, with a sliding guitar (courtesy of Harper) and a codger’s coo. This serrated harp opens “Baby, I Know,” before Forbert skips his way through a series of deeply observational, often quite funny, country-rocking stanzas, like an Appalachian hootenanny led by a winking, love-struck college professor. The title track for this album — due September 11, 2012, from Blue Corn-The Orchard — explores the darker ruminations that our passions can stir up, while “Don’t Look Down, Pollyanna” tries to grab someone just before they go over the edge. “Can’t We Get Together” finds the bitter irony inside of a long-distance relationship.

In perhaps the project’s best moment, Forbert concludes with “Sugarcane Plum Fairy” (a kind of sequel to “Goin’ Down to Laurel” from his 1978 debut), which takes a wider view — tracing a past union’s contours through the family tree branches, shared memories and incidental moments that encircle us all. Only, at the end, it seems this relationship’s fire has gone too long unkindled, that the spark has truly gone. Forbert, on the other hand, seems like he’s just getting started again.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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