Walter Tunis: Steve Forbert returns with distinctive folk-pop

Contributing Music WriterAugust 22, 2013 

Steve Forbert said he's gratified that his first two records, from the late 1970s, have been re-issued.


Steve Forbert

8 p.m. Aug. 25 at Natasha's Bistro, 112 Esplanade. $15. (859) 259-2754.

Usually when people say the past has a way of catching up with you, the connotations are not encouraging. What they really mean is that the consequences of some nefarious deeds from years ago are about to rock your present world but good.

Luckily, the past has caught up with veteran folk-pop stylist Steve Forbert on far friendlier terms. This year, the singer followed the release of Over With You, his fine 2012 indie treatise on the often-conflicting emotions at the heart of modern relationships, with re-issues of his first two albums, 1978's Alive on Arrival and 1979's Jackrabbit Slim. Those were the records that set the career of this Meridian, Miss., songwriter into motion. The latter also scored a huge folk-pop hit, Romeo's Tune, that threw Forbert into the camp of the critically labeled "new Dylans."

"It's gratifying," Forbert, who performs Sunday at Natasha's, said of the second life his first records are receiving. "It means, in a sense, that those records stood the test of time. That's kind of what it's about, isn't it?

"I'm just saying if you're putting out what we'll call 'a work of art,' to have it receive some attention 35 years after the fact is fantastic. This hasn't been the reissue that Exile on Main St was. But I'm happy about it."

To better appreciate the lasting influence of Alive on Arrival and Jackrabbit Slim, you have to understand the kind of artistic climate change that surrounded their creation. In 1976, Forbert left Mississippi for New York City. But the folk revival that thrived in Greenwich Village during the previous decade had been replaced by punk.

Still, in a land where Blondie, Talking Heads and the Ramones were beginning to break through to mainstream audiences, Forbert stuck to his folk-fortified roots. As a result, Alive on Arrival was a huge critical hit (as have most of the songwriter's recordings since then); Jackrabbit Slim leaned closer to pop and put Forbert on the radio.

"My attitude is my attitude, even though I'm not a person who has much 'attitude.' A lot of the punk thing had this sneer to it, but I wasn't coming from a lot of overt rebellion. That wouldn't be my thing. I went to (the famed New York music club) Max's Kansas City and I didn't like the vibe. I didn't really try to play there. But you have to understand (New York new music haven) CBGB's was run by people who were interested in all kinds of music. The so-called New Wave thing grew like a mushroom in the dark there. So the idea wasn't that weird for me to be there. But I never wore a skinny tie or anything like that."

The voice that reaches out on Over With You is more learned, weary and worn. With instrumental support from Ben Harper and Kentuckian Ben Sollee, the album has its dark moments (notably the opening All I Asked of You). But the pop hopefulness from those early days continues to propel much of Forbert's newer music.

"This is a young person's game. Older people are inherently busier with wives, parental responsibilities, jobs, who knows what. It was easy when I got started to break through to my sub-generation through college radio and newspapers and music magazines. But even music magazines now are generally oriented toward the latest thing. People get over it and they get busier. I'm not really trying to reach 21-year-olds anyway. Take All I Asked of You. That's really not much of a kid's song. It's just harder to crack that world when you get older."

Living Large

Lyle Lovett first played Lexington in spring 1988.

The venue was a long-gone country hangout called Rhinestones Music Palace, on Athens-Boonesboro Road on the night of St. Patrick's Day. Country music on a day when the rest of the world turned Irish was strange enough. But then there was Lovett, armed with his Large Band, singing hardcore Texas honky-tonk alongside brassy, jazzy blasts of acerbic soul and a few royal downer anthems from his then-new album Pontiac.

Lovett and his Large Band return for a show Tuesday at the Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short, with tunes from his recent Release Me and the wry, stark and exquisitely human songs that have placed him in the pantheon of cherished Lone Star song stylists.

What a difference a quarter-century makes. (7:30 p.m. $56.50. Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or

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