Moving Through America
3 1/2 out of 5 stars
The title track of Steve Forbert’s 2022 album recounts his solo trek through the Midwest in a pre-pandemic 2017. But it could just as well be used to describe his entire career.
The 60-something Forbert has been working the Americana genre since before it was described as such. His critically acclaimed debut arrived in 1978 and he hasn’t stopped since, using his eternally youthful, scratchy voice and witty lyrics to explore and dissect the America he sees through non-stop roadwork. That has yielded about 20 studio albums and a handful of live ones which work a similar strummy folk/rock groove without being repetitious. It has been quite a ride and although he only logged one substantial hit, 1979’s “Romeo’s Tune,” through the decades, Forbert’s work has acquired enough of a cult audience to keep him afloat in the business.
Although he has incorporated elements of soul and rollicking roots rock in his bulging repertoire, Moving Through America is firmly ensconced in the lyrically clever, often humorous, always enticing melodic folk many would classify as classic Forbert. From the opening solo acoustic “Buffalo Nickel” where he uses that coin as a metaphor for how both buffalos and Native Americans have been mistreated over the years with We had to go an’ slaughter ev’ry Buffalo herd/And we couldn’t leave an Indian be, to the closing, melancholy “USS Palo Alto,” Forbert covers a wide swath of idiosyncratic, often peculiarly American stories.
Forbert’s idea of a love song is singing “I won’t eat fried oysters without you,” as guitars strum and twang with sweet chords. Other random concepts floating through his mind and these songs are trying to untangle what is going on in a dog’s head (“What’s a Dog Think You’re Doing?”), paying tribute to Tom Petty (“Say Hello to Gainesville”) and taking the voice of an ex-con finally out of jail, (“Living the Dream”), the latter enlivened by a frisky harmonica solo.
But there are also less cheerful moments as in “It’s Too Bad” whose protagonist is “way off course” due to a gambling addiction and trying to stay ahead of homelessness. “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” addresses climate change with what Forbert accurately describes as “folk/funk.”
Even darker selections go down easy. Forbert’s genial everyman voice and his affable combo’s accompaniment generally stay upbeat (gotta love the flugelhorn in “Times Like These”), if perhaps with fewer memorable hooks than in the past. Although inclusions like the subtle reference to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” in “Can’t Get Back” are awfully catchy.
Chalk up another delightful catalog entry as Moving Through America slots naturally into Steve Forbert’s ever-expanding resume. Like much of his previous work, it explores his country’s ups, downs, foibles, and quirks with intelligence, humor, and a whole lot of charm.