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The return of Little Steven

Little StevenNeed cheering up in these dark times? Look no further. Little Steven’s Soulfire — in which Steve Van Zandt returns to his true vocation after his adventures with The Sopranos and Lilyhammer — is a record that could start a party in an empty house.

This October it’ll be 35 years since Van Zandt brought his Disciples of Soul to London, promoting his first solo album, Men Without Women. Their appearance at the Marquee was not just one of the best gigs of a very good year but one of the most exhilarating nights I can remember in the old Wardour Street premises. A 10-piece band, with Dino Danelli, the former Young Rascal, on drums, they kicked through great songs like “Forever”, “Until the Good is Gone” and “Angel Eyes”, with an encore of “Can I Get a Witness”. Van Zandt’s singing reminded me then, as it does now, of Keith Richards and Pete Townshend: he might not possess the power or technique of a real lead singer, but there’s an honesty and a directness in his delivery that has its own special value.

Soulfire is the first album under his own name in 18 years, and mostly it sticks to the horns-and-Hammond template of the E Street Band. Some of the dozen songs are familiar: they include “I Don’t Want to Go Home” and “Love on the Wrong Side of Town” from the repertoire of Southside Johnny, and “Standing in the Line of Fire”, written with Bruce Springsteen for Gary U. S. Bonds, now with a great spaghetti-western intro. Others are new, like “The City Weeps Tonight”, a meticulous evocation of East Coast doowop with the Persuasions providing support. “Down and Out in New York City” is a surprise cover of a song written by Bodie Chandler and Barry De Vorzon in 1973 for James Brown’s Black Caesar soundtrack album, riding a laconic street-funk rhythm with wah-wah and chicken-scratch rhythm guitars, a Rhodes with its mirror shades on, and violins voiced in octaves: the full blaxploitation menu, in fact, and very well executed. Steve also gives us a howling Dylanesque version of “Saint Valentine’s Day”, first recorded by a Norwegian band called the Cocktail Slippers in 2009 and more recently heard in David Chase’s film Not Fade Away.

I started loving this album as soon as I put it on. It’s not bursting with originality, to say the least, but sometimes that’s not what you need. It’s good-time music with a heart and a human voice, made by a man with a profound love and understanding of rock and soul, and what could possibly be wrong with that?

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mark Goodwin #

    Thanks, Richard. I seem to recall you were standing not far away when I had my first (and last) chat with Miami Steve (front row, second Bruce gig, 1975). You just sold another record.

    May 25, 2017
  2. GuitarSlinger #

    ” It’s not bursting with originality, to say the least, but sometimes that’s not what you need. It’s good-time music with a heart and a human voice ”

    And thats pretty much been Little Stevie’s M/O since the Asbury Park days .. of which I had the pleasure of attending [ both SSJaAD’s and the Boss ] back in the day . Damn its sure nice to see Van Zandt hop off the Cable TV gravy train getting back to his roots . Good ole R&B ( ala NJ ) based R&R ! 😎

    As for the ‘ dark times comment ‘ Richard . Seriously … could our ‘ so called president ‘ / Chaos in Chief make us look any stupider in the eyes of the world ? Problem is … I’ll bet he can .

    May 25, 2017

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