Snobbishness in music really annoys me. We’re all guilty of it, even little ol’ me. If Steve Black was to put ‘Austin-born’ on his CV, then he’d be hailed up there amongst the best of those legendary Texas singer-songwriters. But Blackie was born in South London and for many years has called Devon home. So that means it has been hard for Blackie to get the ears of djs, the media and those Americana fans who drool over the likes of Sam Baker, Slaid Cleaves or even the mighty Guy Clark. But in his own way, as a songwriter, Steve Black is in that class. Don’t believe me? Well just give this latest album a listen, because there’s a lot of the same lyrical outlook in evidence. Folks along Music Row keep rummaging through demo CDs hoping to find the kind of whiskey-soaked songs that fall naturally from Blackie’s pen and sound natural in his voice.
The opening Don’t You Get Me Wrong, a co-write with the equally underrated Alan West, is typical of the overall vibe of this album. Desperation in love, of being down-and-out with no way up—are a pretty pervasive presence here. ‘Heading nowhere down an empty road,’ Blackie sings in I’m Not Over You. At the same time, there’s the slow, dreamlike pace of You’re On Your Own with superb, understated harmonies from Siobhan Parr that develop into a full-blown duet that makes the hairs on your neck bristle. The alt.country lean of the fiddle sweetened Alaska (Take Me Back), the country-flecked travelling song Golden Road and the compelling stories of Wasilla and Jack London, all of which add up to making this a strong outing. Steve Black is equally skilled at using both sentiment and humour without going overboard with either. With a crack band of session players and the superb harmony vocals of Siobhan Parr this is the kind of album that should be universally embraced, but sadly the snobbish prejudice against UK-born singer-songwriters by the Americana diehards will probably hamper that ever happening. But at least I get to enjoy it over and over again—and the majority of you out there will be the losers.
Alan Cackett (editor of Maverick)