Steppin’ In It
Simple Tunes for Troubled Times
Put aside, for a moment, the polemics, the complaints, the plight of the working man. Let the occasionally heavy lyrics slide and bask in the glow of the accomplished acoustic- and horn-based old-school Americana of Simple Songs for Troubled Times, the latest from Lansing, Michigan-based Steppin’ In It. Soak in the woody timbres; imagine old cars on dirt roads that have since rusted to hulks and grown over with brambles, then go back and listen to those words and you’ll find they apply to both a lost age and an all too current one.
All is not early 20th century daydream on Simple Songs; there’s no doubt that this is a modern production, and there’s just enough contemporary Band-esque hesitating beauty on this record to hold the attention of the Pitchfork/Spin/Magnet crowd amidst the derby hats and steamboats and tramps. “The Steamboat Queen” does chug along a lazy groove befitting misters Hudson and Robertson, et al., and, I might add, does them proud by capturing their antique-seeking spirit as much as their groove. But back to that heavy lyrical content …
“Break of Day,” the album’s opening cut, makes quite an impression on several fronts. Vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Joshua Davis brings a world-weary croon filled with the gravitas and forthrightness of a Tom Petty or a Peter Case, combines it with relevant lyrics addressing the strip mall canvassing that’s wiping out Middle America town culture like a blocky, faceless Borg. And, of course, there’s the music: haunting, familiar, yet utterly present and vital. It rings true throughout the disc on songs like “The Ghost of Richard Manuel,” which, aforementioned band-with-a-capital-B aside, could exist alongside any Ryan Adams or Son Volt ditty with its Westerberg/Counting Crows rough-hewn lilt.
A pronounced jazz vibe makes some welcome appearances, most notably in the jaunty, smooth “Hittin’ on All Six,” and the satisfyingly smoky, harmony-laden and molasses-slow “Wren’s Lul-la-by.” The journey comes to an end via a ragged but hopeful country-tinged ballad, “Washtenaw County,” a nice ending to a killer modern roots record.
Steppin’ In It will appear alongside Rachael Davis in Fort Wayne on Sunday, April 13 at come2go ministries. (D.M. Jones)
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