Songlines Revisited Volume One
Normally, re-recording tracks from earlier albums is a sign of musical dementia or bad advice, but Steve Young spent three decades on the sidelines watching his music alternately ignored and exploited by labels which seemingly had interest in neither music nor artist. The result is an extensive catalogue of albums and songs available only at the whim of legal trustees. After numerous attempts to liberate master tapes from those trustees, Young chose the easy way out. He recorded them himself.
While Young fans might at first bemoan his recording Seven Bridges Road or Rock Salt & Nails for the umpteenth time, a cursory listen will put their fears to rest. Simple, bare-bones arrangements and squeaky clean production plus Young's soaring voice, still solid and unique after all these years, make them well worth hearing. In total, the ten tracks originally done on Rock Salt & Nails (A&M, 1969) and Seven Bridges Road (Reprise, 1972) make for a very pleasant visit with songs very hard to find on CD.
Strangely enough, on Songlines, Young chose to kick things off with The White Trash Song, an upbeat shitkicker of some note. Buried third on side one of the Reprise LP, it gives Young a chance to pick as well as sing his way into your head and he does both most admirably. Smooth production and superb performance makes the choice a no-brainer. Young slows it down slightly with Long Way to Hollywood and once again the picking is topflight. Thomm Jutz (who also produced) is crystal clean on his leads and the band nails the feel. That sets up one of Young's most noted originals, the slow and haunting Montgomery In the Rain, reportedly written about a visit to Hank Williams' gravesite. Jutz's slidework and Young's soaring voice makes it all worthwhile. A little Ragtime Blues Guitar lightens things up before a song many fans can never get enough of, Utah Phillips' classic Rock Salt & Nails. A guitar dipped in tremolo and reverb backs Young's sadness beautifully and although fans may miss the moaning fiddle of Myer Sniffin (Richard Greene) on the A&M LP or the ethereal background vocals of Betsy Kaske on the Mountain Railroad Honky Tonk Man album, it is all good. Young could record this a thousand times and it would be all good. Somehow, Marvin Rainwater's classic Gonna Find Me a Bluebird made it on to this CD, the only song unconnected to Young in some personal way. A bit fifties and sixties country-oriented, it is good to hear, but it is always good to know that Young is not insulated by ego against the music of others. Blues is a strong suit for Young's voice and Alabama Highway is the perfect vessel to prove it. Word has it that Young was never really satisfied with previous recorded versions (he evidently never is) and took the opportunity to upgrade, shall we say. A great ballad to begin with, vocals and reverbed/tremoloed guitar puts it over the top. Young probably made more money off of Lonesome, Orn'ry & Mean than on anything else he recorded (possibly with the exception of Seven Bridges Road which was included on The Eagles' Live), thanks to Waylon Jennings' hit version. Young does it justice and more, baking it in a Johnny Cash shuffle and kicking it lightly. Of course, recording a retrospective without Seven Bridges Road would be absurd. The song has become intertwined with the sense of legend that follows Young around, ignored though he may seem. Son Jubal Lee's background vocals make it a family thing. Totally fitting. Speaking of family, My Oklahoma, written by Cheryl Newkirk (Young's one-time wife), caps off the CD, a lonely and alluring bringdown after this Youngfest. A beautiful, beautiful ballad.
Fans of Steve Young should allay fears here and buy with confidence, but those who know nothing or little of Young might want to take the leap as well. Ian Matthews' arrangement of Seven Bridges Road was huge for The Eagles and anyone who knows outlaw music remembers Waylon Jennings' version of Young's Lonesome, Orn'ry & Mean. Gram Parsons, before and during the Burritos, haunted the same clubs and studios, and both shared the love of twang.
As for Young's inability to jump the hump, sales-wise, the name-dropping could be endless here but Young has never been one to cotton to it. He speaks through his music and his guitar. On this CD, he speaks pure Steve Young. Good enough.
CD is available from Steve Young his own self at www.steveyoung.net or from one of the best brick and mortar/web stores going, www.musicmillennium.com.