Seasick Steve Songs For Elisabeth Review

Released 2010.  

BBC Review

A limited-run Valentine’s set from the plain-speaking American bluesman.

Mike Diver 2010

We hear you: Steve’s only just issued an album, Man From Another Time, which you bought in October. Panic not; nobody’s demanding you hand over the readies for another long-player so soon after the last. Indeed, there’s little need to pick up Songs For Elisabeth at all if you’ve tracked the artist’s belated rise to mainstream acceptance: only one song here is new, the closer Ready For Love. The rest are carried over from previous collections.

Why? Valentine’s, simple as: this seven-track set is presented to serve as a card, with ‘to’ space left for a recipient and ‘from’ for the sender’s John Hancock.  It’s sold, by the label powers that be at Atlantic, as an alternative gift for your loved one this year: faintly mercenary for sure, but these songs are sweet enough to sooth any nasty burn suffered while being taken for a ride.

A paradoxical new artist – born in 1941 but only emerging of an artist of widespread appeal with 2006’s Doghouse Music (from which this disc’s My Donny is taken) – Steven Wold’s rustic shtick is thin, for sure, but it sticks tight to the listener’s heart, a veneer that’s tough to scrub clean once given time enough to set. In the case of this predictable, but acceptably so, rough-hewn country crooner, that’s the length of two or three songs, particularly those from third long-playing set, I Started Out With Nothin and I Still Got Most of it Left. Fortunately for beginners, a pair those are included here.

Of these selections, one shines above the other and all other inclusions. Just Like a King finds Wold vocally sparring with none other than the dark prince of the murder ballad himself, Nick Cave. It swaggers, bluesy loose, with an effortless attitude, the kind that’s only exuded by those of a certain maturity. But its sentiments are far from style-over-substance fodder: simply, only with this girl can this man (albeit a man of two distinct voices) feel this special way.

Which is a fine summary of many an individual’s affections for another: just to have them near is enough to be empowered with a tremendous energy, be if fuelled by lust, nerves, or simple struck-dumb love. Much of Seasick Steve’s fare is that, dumb, in comparison to so many showy upstarts; but at the core of these pieces beats a romantic heart full of plain-speaking (from experience) storytelling.

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