Steve Poltz? Why do I know that name? Oh yeah, he’s the guy that co-wrote “You Were Meant for Me” with Jewel. But where else do I know him from, flashback as I remember being solicited for “One Left Shoe” from Mercury Records in 1998 and then I lost track. Fast forward twenty years and my editor asks me to review his latest release Shine On out on Redhouse Records this Friday, March 1st. What has happened in the last twenty years? For starters he parted ways with Mercury around the time it was acquired by Universal and soon after formed his own label, 98 Pounder where he has released nine albums of his unique blend of folk-pop. Shine On finds him partnering with an outside label, Red House records since the ill-fated experience with Mercury in 98. Does that matter? To you the listener I am not sure it does because if you liked him then you’re gonna like him now. I think the partnership with Red House will help him get this record in front of more people and that is a good thing for audience and artist alike.
Recorded and produced in Nashville by jack of all trades Will Kimbrough, Shine On finds Poltz in strong form. Opening track “Shine On” is slow and deliberate, from the pacing to the economical use of words. Spoken more than sung, I found myself anticipating and hanging on every word, waiting for the next nugget of advice, as Poltz gives us an almost mantra on how to live kindly and gently. It is a great start to a very good album. “Pharmacist” is a fun track which according to Poltz, is “about this dude having a crush on his pharmacist.” Kinda silly, it fits right in with the music Poltz has consistently delivered over his twenty plus year career. “Over the Top For You” has some fantastic guitar picking, with the players dueling back and forth to start the track. It wears its bluegrass fascination on its sleeve and when the mandolin comes in to compliment the guitars you know you are listening to something special. “Pick Up Song” about the aftermath of being dumped is more rock and roll than the rest of the album with drummer Bryan Owings steady hand. A nice break, it showcases how crafty Poltz can be with a turn of a phrase. This song promises to be a good time in concert. “4th of July” is a beautiful love song and comes across as the most genuinely emotional offering on the album. Pure folk, it drops the wit for introspection and delivers on all fronts. “All Things Shine” is a fantastic closer to the collection and could have easily swapped places with opener “Shine On.” This song, written “after one of the many mass shootings on the planet,” gradually builds until it evolves into a gorgeous Beatlesesque swirl as it attempts to dig through the pain life throws at you for the shiny, shimmering moments of beauty that often times lay underneath.
Shine On is a strong album that should appeal to longtime fans and newcomers alike. Will Kimbrough shows his skill at knowing what a song needs and his patience takes Poltz’s work to a new level. The songs are well written, delivered compellingly and Poltz should be proud that twenty years in he still has the goods.