Steve Forbert: Alive on Arrival & Jackrabbit Slim (Expanded Editions) CD Review

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I became a Steve Forbert fan purely by chance. A lot of people first heard him via his hit single "Romeo's Tune" in 1980, but not me. No, it was "The Oil Song" that did it, and it was a freebie to boot. Back in the late '70s I bought an album at Tower Records, and they offered me a promo single to go with it. That single turned out to be Steve Forbert's "The Oil Song," and if I remember right, the same tune was on both sides. As a hard rockin' KISS and Ted Nugent fan, this long folk song about oil would not have been my first choice. But there was something about it that just got under my skin. Maybe it was the way he enunciated "oil" with his twangy Mississippi voice, or the way the lyrics unfolded like a book, but it got to me.

In just about the only instance where one of those promotional singles actually did its job, I wound up buying Forbert's Jackrabbit Slim album because of "The Oil Song." The thing was, "The Oil Song" was not on Jackrabbit Slim, or on the other Forbert album in their racks, Alive On Arrival either. I did know "Romeo's Tune" from the radio though, so that is what gave the more recent Jackrabbit Slim the edge. It was not much of an edge though, because I was not particularly fond of "Romeo's Tune" at the time. I have since grown to love it, but it was really the rest of the album that sold me. Sold me so much in fact, that I went back and got Alive on Arrival later on, and have cherished both for many years now.

Talk to a Steve Forbert fan, and chances are you will get a similar story. Maybe not one involving a promo single, but one that is very personal. His music just brings that out in people I think. This is certainly true of David Wild, who wrote the liner notes to the new Blue Corn Music double-CD reissue of Alive on Arrival and Jackrabbit Slim. Wild talks about how he used a line from the Jackrabbit Slim song "January 23-30, 1978" as his yearbook quote.

Since it seems to be confessional time, I might as well admit that it has been far too long since I have listened to these albums. I was still in high school when they came out, and played them a lot, for a time. Then I put them away. It's funny how music can burrow itself away in your mind though. I have so many memories associated with the period of time that I became a Forbert fan, and they all just flooded back as I played these discs.

Both albums are classics in their own ways, because the music of Steve Forbert is his and his alone. The image is of the singer-songwriter playing a guitar, as pictured on Jackrabbit Slim. There is so much more to his songs than just that though. The R&B influence is strong, as are the stories he tells. Being from the South, Forbert also knows his country. What I have come to respect the most all these years later is how easily and perfectly he integrates it all into his music. Everything is in context of the song, and even though I have mentioned a number of different styles, his approach is always understated. The term "less is more" may have been invented to describe the music of Steve Forbert.

Truth be told, I would recommend this package to every fan, just because it is such a bargain. Basically you get two discs for about the same price as a single. But Blue Corn Music have added five songs to Alive on Arrival, and seven to Jackrabbit Slim for a dozen extra tracks. Considering that each original album contained ten tunes apiece, this is like getting a full extra disc of material.

Yes, but...I know, "bonus" tracks are usually just junk, nothing anyone would ever play more than once. That is not the case here though, not at all. First of all, there is "The Oil Song," which was a non-LP track for all those years. I lost my promo copy of it a long time ago, so this was the first time I had been able to listen to it again in ages. Not only is it still as cool as I remember, it is extremely topical. Forbert wrote it about the oil spills of the '70s, but it is a subject that never seems to go away.

A few more non-LP beauties include "Song For the South (Time's Gonna Take Me Back)," "Smoky Windows," and "Poor Boy." The closer is a live version of "Romeo's Tune" from The Palladium in New York, November, 1979, and it sounds great.

Steve Forbert is anything but an acquired taste. His music is mighty easy on the ears, and the stories he has to tell never get old. Fans like me have probably already snapped this up, but for the curious, my advice is to trust your instincts and go for it. Besides "Romeo's Tune," Steve Forbert did not get a lot of radio airplay, at least not in my neck of the woods. So in a way, he is kind of a "new" artist to many people.

Even though these records are over 30 years old, they do not sound dated at all. Great songs stand the test of time, and if there is one thing that is certain, Alive on Arrival and Jackrabbit Slim are filled with great songs. To be honest, I had kind of forgotten just how much these albums meant to me once upon a time. I could not be happier that they are now back in my life.