Wednesday, May 24, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 1008: Seasick Steve

After a bit of an exhausting day I’m looking forward to a quiet night in. Let’s start with a music review, since that’s what we do here.

Disc 1008 is…You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks
Artist: Seasick Steve

Year of Release: 2011

What’s up with the Cover? I’ll let Seasick Steve tell this one in his own words:

“Twm is a cross Labrador and collie, approximately 12 years old. He was dumped on a motorway in Swansea, South Wales and taken to a dog pound where he chose Claire as his new owner. His name “Twm” comes from the name of the Welsh Happy Highwayman Twm Sion Cati.”

Nice story, Steve, but I’m still a cat person.

How I Came To Know It: I was in the mood to own a bit more Seasick Steve and took a chance on this one without listening to it first. I gotta learn to stop doin’ that but you can’t teach an old… Well, you know.

How It Stacks Up:  I have two Seasick Steve albums. Of the two, I must reluctantly put “You Can’t Teach An Old Dog…” second.

Ratings: 2 stars

Say what you will about this Seasick Steve album, it doesn’t falsely advertise. This record is an old dog doing old tricks. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it didn’t inspire me the way I’d hoped it would.

In Seasick Steve’s case, the old trick is some pretty solid rhythm and blues, punctuated by Steve’s gravelly vocals and solid guitar work. Steve is an accomplished guitar player, and he knows well enough to sit right down in the pocket of a style he really gets. He pumps out rocking blues riffs with enthusiasm, and even works an acoustic from time time, on which he demonstrates a picking technique that is so aggressive that I suspect he has to retune his axe every other song.

That is the good stuff, but when you stick to old tricks you need to perform those old tricks in a spectacular fashion. There is nothing wrong on “You Can’t Teach…” but it doesn’t have the consistent visceral energy of his earlier release “Man From Another Time”. The two ‘dog’ themed songs (the title track and “Back in the Doghouse”) bring out the best in Steve, with thick reverb and dirty power, but the rest of the record falls a little short in terms of grease n’ grit.

There are a couple of interesting songs, particularly “Treasures” and “It’s a Long Long Way” both of which have a folksy troubadour quality to them that made me think of Johnny Cash late in his career. “It’s a Long Long Way” has a pretty picking solo and even a thoughtful opening rumination on the subject of aging:

“You prob’ly won’t take no advice from me
I never took none myself, you see
It’s just when you get older
You’d like to pass some on
But nobody’s listening.”

Not super inspiring, but heartfelt when Steve sings it to you. Unfortunately, this is the high point of the album lyrically as most of it is occupied with variations on “I ain’t gonna change” and “I’m a hobo”. Perfectly good themes, but the songs don’t shine any new light on the topics, and also feature a lot of strained rhymes that don’t do them any favours.

Apart from his fantastic guitar work, the thing that is great about Seasick Steve is how visceral and raw he feels. On “You Can’t Teach…” there are long stretches where he just sounds like a bar band you’d hear at your local. A good bar band for sure, but this isn’t the kind of music I like to sit in a pub and listen to all night. Maybe that last one’s on me.

There is just too much of the same thing here. This sounds a bit hollow considering how much indie folk music I’ve been buying for the past six months. You could argue a lot of that stuff sounds the same too, and you could be right. But at least there either the stories are different or the voices are sweeter, and I’m a sucker for both those things.

There’s nothing terrible about this record, and much to recommend it, but as the CD shelves fill up I’ve got to be a bit more ruthless, and that means this dog is going to have to find another home. Hopefully it’ll find one that is more appreciative.

Best tracks: Treasures, Back in the Dog House, It’s A Long Long Way

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