Steve Forbert — Moving Through America
I first saw Steve Forbert live in 1979, a year after his debut album, in an ugly concrete-walled multi-purpose room at my college just outside of Boston. It’s fair to say that if I had to travel any further (it was across the street from my dorm) or pay any more (it was free for students) I would not have bothered. And I would have missed being exposed to someone whose music has now been a welcome companion for 43 years and counting.
I say “and counting” because not only do I continue to revisit Forbert’s early albums, but because he – after 40 years on the road and 20 albums – continues to release vital and exciting new music. That is absolutely true of Moving Through America, Forbert’s latest album/travelog.
The songs on Moving Through America feel instantly familiar. No small part of that is Forbert’s distinctive voice – warm and expressive, welcoming and resonant. He never overwrites; his approach is straight-froward, but never boring. It’s no surprise that he is uninterested in lofty conversations about musical genres (country v. folk v. Americana, for example). “I’m not trying to refine or reimagine what I do,” says Forbert. “This is a continuation. I’m telling new stories, but my focus has always been the same. It’s always been about the songs.”
And Moving Through America delivers great songs. The album opener, “Buffalo Nickel,” reflects on the United States’ long history of mistreating Native Americans but does so in Forbert’s characteristically semi-detached style (“I’m thinking ’bout a Buffalo nickel/It seems so ironic to me/We had to go an’ slaughter every Buffalo herd/And we couldn’t leave an Indian be”). Some of Forbert’s best songs here are about places he has passed though during his four decades of travels across the United States. He does not sing the praises of New York, Los Angles or Chicago; it’s more about Reynoldsburg, Ohio; Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Madison, Wisconsin. In the title track, Forbert shows how he can capture a town in couplet: “Madison, Wisconsin is a town of neon signs/Glowing signs of neon sellin’ liquor, beer and wine/Cocktail from the fifties with an olive in a glass/An all-day long suggestion that keeps flashin’ as you pass.”
Other standout songs also convey a powerful sense of place, from Palo Alto, California to Gainesville, Florida. “Say Hello to Gainesville” is a warm tribute to Tom Petty and his hometown, which Forbert remembers as a place of “a sunny sounding motels” and “sunshine trees.”
Forbert also displays his goofy side on the album. Who else would write a love song entitled “Fried Oysters” (“I won’t eat fried oysters without you and the cocktail sauce/I don’t care what they cost/ it’s worth those high prices/I’m your date and you said eight and you’re my oyster girl”), or spend a song wondering “What’s a Dog Think” about lawn mowing, thunderclaps or firetrucks?
Enjoy our interview here: Key to the Highway: Steve Forbert