ALBUM REVIEW: SOULFIRE – LITTLE STEVEN
Last year at his O2 Indigo show in London, Little Steven announced that he was going to be back in 2017 with a new album and another European tour. The only UK date that’s been squeezed into his schedule was Manchester but the promised new album is now out and it’s a scorcher!
His first solo album for 18 years (“Born Again Savage” appeared in 1999), the new release marks a return to the sound of “Men Without Women” (his first album with the Disciples of Soul) and the first three albums for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, which he produced and provided a lot of the original material. So you know what you’re going to get – lots of brass, big production, classic 50s and 60s R & B and striking rock guitar
The 15 piece band includes top horns man Eddie Manion (from the Asbury Jukes) and guitarist Marc Ribler (the musical director for Darlene Love), and it’s primarily the band that played over here at the London Blues Fest.
It’s not what you would call a “brand new” album – most of the Van Zandt material has appeared in some form previously. It’s effectively Van Zandt pulling together a set of songs that can be seen as his story so far – and it makes you realise what a good songwriter/producer/arranger Van Zandt is.
You get Van Zandt’s take on 5 of his own compositions (or co-writes) which were first recorded by Southside Johnny – I’m Coming Back, Some Things Just Don’t Change, Love On The Wrong Side Of Town, I Don’t Want To Go Home (the first song he ever wrote) and Ride The Night Away. Also featured is an update of “Standing in the Line of Fire” (originally recorded by Gary US Bonds)
The “old” songs are good and anyone familiar with the Southside Johnny versions isn’t going to be disappointed. “Love on the Wrong Side of Town” is the most changed version- it gets a “Byrds style” intro before the familiar brass parts kick in, and then the instrumental section goes for an altogether different sound which is strikingly different from the horns on the Jukes version.
Even more interesting are the less familiar songs –“Soulfire” the album opener is a co-write which was recorded previously by The Breakers – a band on Van Zandt’s own label. It’s a strong opener and sets out the tone of the album that follows – a big sound and Van Zandt’s trademark vocals and guitar.
Here’s a link to Little Steven’s Youtube site to hear “Soulfire”:
“The City Weeps Tonight” is a new Van Zandt original – and it’s a gorgeous piece of updated doo wop. “I Saw The Light” is another Van Zandt original (not the Todd Rundgren song) which has never appeared before.
There’s an excellent choice of covers – first up (track 3) you get the “Blues Is My Business” a strong blues rock number first recorded by Etta James. This is the track for all you LGA students to plug in the guitar and play along to. Clocking in at over 6 minutes there’s plenty of licks and riffs to get your teeth (fingers!) into. You can play along here at Little Steven’s Youtube site:
The album also features a cover of “Down And Out in New York City” – the James Brown track from the movie “Black Caesar”. Marc Ribler gives it the full-on ‘70s “Shaft” wah-wah guitar sound.
“Saint Valentine’s Day” is another Van Zandt original that was originally given away and recorded by The Cocktail Slippers. It also featured in a stripped down rocky format in the rock movie “Not Fade Away” but this version brings in the full band and horn section to keeps this version within the sound of the album as a whole.
You can hear it here:
If you like the “Men Without Women” album (or Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes) this is definitely an album to go and buy.
- I’m Coming Back
- Blues Is My Business
- I Saw the Light
- Some Things Just Don’t Change
- Love on the Wrong Side of Town
- The City Weeps Tonight
- Down and Out in New York City
- Standing in the Line of Fire
- Saint Valentine’s Day
- I Don’t Want to Go Home
- Ride the Night Away
BLAST FROM THE PAST
Here’s Youtube live footage from the current European tour with Southside Johnny joining Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul for a sing-a-long version of “It’s Been A Long Time” (written by Van Zandt and originally recorded by Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes on their excellent 1991 comeback album “Better Days” )