Steve Forbert – A Desert Island Disc

Back in Nov 1998, I contributed this little CD user comment to Amazon.com:

“My first disc from Steve Forbert. Actually, purchased it for Romeo’s tune but after a few listen, it’s the other lesser known tracks that catch me listening to it over and over again. The recording is very good and the price too. Highly recommended.”

The CD was “What Kinda Guy?: The Best of Steve Forbert”, a 19 songs compilation CD from Steve’s Nemperor years. A few years later, after I caught the vinyl bug, I bought a Steve Forbert LP lot from ebay. In the lot of 4 LPs, the debut LP – Alive On Arrival (JZ 35538) stood out. Today, this American singer-songwriter, who plays his blend of acoustic/folk/pop, is very much alive and touring in the States. He was branded as a young Dylan when he first came into the music scene in 1978.

Steve Forbert

The music critics didn’t quite bother with this debut. There were no hits, you wouldn’t find it in any Best debut listings and Steve Forbert didn’t become a major star after that. But I am telling you that this is an overlooked gem that you mustn’t miss. You see, it is that good to warrant my multiple buys (note: not  for sale), for which I only reserve for desert island discs.

To qualify into my desert island listing, the LP has to have – first and foremost, strong musical content throughout, not just a few good songs. The musicians must have the chops, the emotions to engage the listener to listen from start to finish, again and again, never skipping a track. Last but not least, the high electricity cost on a desert island permits only great sounding LPs to be played.

Let’s dig into the music. It was 1978, a young man from little small town arriving at the big city living some life lessons. Songs here are relevant to our everyday life – You Cannot Win If You Don’t Play; self-reflective What Kinda Guy?; Steve Forbert’s Midsummer Night’s Toast looks at reality with hope, cynicism and humour. The good tunes come one after another (especially Side A) and perhaps Steve could have been less generous and save some for his follow-up. His 2nd LP, Jackrabbit Slim despite being commercially successful (Romeo’s Tune was a Top 40 hit), I felt wasn’t as strong and memorable as this.

Into the sonic section, can somebody please tell me why it sounded so darn good on my stereo? The back cover offers no information on the recording engineer and mastering work but one fact remains – this LP makes hi-fi impressive. The vocal, the acoustic and electrical instruments, the band, is so wonderfully captured. The sound is airy, open and live. It makes you rethink the necessity of audiophile records. The copies I heard so far (all US pressings) sounded top dog, ten upon ten, regardless of the varying matrix number (does matrix number matters so much?). My latest acquisition, a white label promo, is strictly for fans but just icing on an already perfect cake.

In today’s Internet world where everyone has heard of everything, there could still be one best debut you’ve never heard.

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