(Rolling Tide Records, CD)
Singer-songwriter Steve Forbert was born in Meridian, Mississippi, but he made his musical mark in 1970s Greenwich Village. By the end of the decade, he was opening for the Talking Heads at the now-defunct CBGB nightclub - not bad for a Southern folkie. Shortly after, he signed to Columbia Records.
Forbert's first two records were certifiable hits, with his 1979 single, "Romeo's Tune," cracking the Top 20. But the early success came with unwanted baggage. Forbert was tagged "the next Dylan" by overzealous critics who took his raspy voice and adventurous narratives as a kind of unfulfilled prophecy. Label difficulties and diminishing sales soon followed.
Forbert came back strong in the '90s, however, releasing several well-received records on smaller imprints. His latest disc is a live offering, recorded with keyboardist/accordion player/background vocalist Paul Errico. Titled It's Been A Long Time: Live Acoustic, the album showcases Forbert's gifts in a stripped-down setting.
At 23 tracks, it's probably not the best starting point for Forbert neophytes. But longtime fans will no doubt find the well-sequenced mix of classics and newer material welcome.
It's a treat to hear Forbert interact with the audience; his banter is affably dry. Such sardonic good humor can't be faked, and no doubt comes from having experienced the ups and downs of a longtime troubadour.
"This is a trilogy... of complaints," Forbert states as he launches into the bluesy opening chords of "On the Streets of This Town." The tune is littered with references to Forbert's topsy-turvy career: "I signed your dotted line / Did my best to try and give all I could give / And all I've gotten back / Is the feeling that I lack what I'm needing to live," he intones gruffly.
Fan favorite "Complications" isn't as smooth as the Jackrabbit Slim original, but I actually prefer this more ragged rendition. Interestingly, the tune keeps evolving: "Tony planned a little trip to Florida / Gonna find a little fun in the Gulf Coast region towns he'd never seen / He was packin' up his suitcase as the Weather Channel said / Katrina, Hurricane, Biloxi... Look out, New Orleans," Forbert sings.
The CD closes with Forbert's best-known number, "Romeo's Tune." Gone is the smooth, '70s soft-rock production; this version features only dinky keyboards, trebly acoustic and Forbert's strained voice. It's still pretty affecting, but that paper-thin guitar tone has got to go.
Forbert loyalists will likely be treated to a lot of these tunes when he performs at the Valley Players Theater in Waitsfield on October 28. This disc could make a fine memento.