Your crusty chronicler is an individual who does his own thing. Still, when Examiner asked for support for their new “List” format, it was nigh impossible not to be open-minded about it. So, with the spirit of unity in mind, your rockin’ reviewer presents this series—“Track by Track” in which we review certain select CDs literally “track by track”.
This edition of the series we (ahem) examine Steve Smith’s CD Dream Wicked. For those not up on their indie artists, Steve Smith is an L.A.-based multi-instrumentalist/singer-songwriter who was raised in Iowa. His music is oft’times influenced by such artists as The Beatles, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Fleetwood Mac and even Judy Garland. On this work Smith (vocals, keyboards and percussion) is backed by a bevy of other artists including: Grammy nominated producer Larry Treadwell (guitar, bass, percussion, midi programming and keyboards), Howard Greene (drums) and Richard Hardy (saxophone).
(View the photos to learn more about Smith’s music.)
The ten track album opens on the driven ditty “Dreamer”. This is the first piece co-written by ASCAP member Smith and Treadwell who also sings backing vocals along with Deborah Pearl and Smith’s vocal coach Rosemary Butler (Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt). It’s an entertaining introduction but falls short in terms of demonstrating all that Smith can do.
“When I Saw You Dance”
The second selection is the lighter “When I Saw You Dance”. This is the album’s first example of what Smith can do in terms of solo songwriting. There is something to this track that is universal in both the message and the music. This is somehow vaguely reminiscent of some early Sugarloaf material and yet obviously his own composition.
The next number is the semi-titular track “Wicked”. This is an upbeat take about a woman who is no good. While this woman might indeed be a (ahem) witch this original song has nothing to do with the famous musical of the same name. It features Rebecca Larabee and Roxanne Mayweather on background vocals.
The cut “Come Around” comes next. This is one of the songs that seem to cement his signature sound. It serves as a perfect partner for the previous piece particularly because together they tunefully tell the tale of a man who was burned by a wicked woman but still has manages to hold on to hope because he is “not through with love”. It includes additional lyrics by the darling Deedee O’Malley. Grammy winner Sue Sheridan is featured on background vocals.
“For You” follows and is a fine track indeed. Not to be confused with the hit song by Coldplay, this is an original collaboration by Smith and Treadwell. The vocals work well and the song moves along well enough to give it a commercial feel. Larabee and Mayweather encore on this track.
The sixth song is “Say Goodbye”. This is another solo Smith piece which seems oddly placed considering the title. Nevertheless, it does fit in well enough with the other relationship tunes. Mayweather sticks around to flesh out the background on this lyrical life lesson to a specific albeit unnamed lady.
“Salvage My Love”
The seventh selection is “Salvage My Love”. Hope springs eternal here as Smith makes it clear that while he sometimes writes songs that demonstrate he has been knocked down he is still determined to persevere in the game of love. Mark Islam and Gary Rowland are recruited to fill it out with their background vocals.
“Don’t Wanna Wait”
“Don’t Wanna Wait” is an urgent audio offering with an interesting contrast. National In-Choir member Smith’s vocals are slightly rougher and yet the music—complete with elements of a late 1960s sound—flows smoothly. It sounds like this would be more fun live in fact. Phyllis Bailey Brooks intros on backing vocals and Mayweather returns as well.
“Journey” follows here. This is yet another demonstration of what the team of Smith and Treadwell can produce when they put their musical minds to it. This is a touching track that tells a story of support and loyalty. What the journey is may not be clear but then again it might not matter. The message is universal.
The closing cut is “Free Spirit” again by Smith and Treadwell. It does indeed let Smith and company run free a bit. The piece includes a bit of that “wall of sound’ aspect to it which really makes the cut more powerful.
Smith, who is also in repertory with Grassroots Acoustica, a monthly singer/songwriter showcase that raises money for LA charities, seems to be comfortable with whatever he’s doing at any given moment. There are no extremes as he manages to take tips from those who have gone before and work them into something all his own. If an effective combination of musical elements from adult contemporary, blues and rock sound good to you, then you “Don’t Wanna Wait” to check out Steve Smith’s Dream Wicked.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.