Steve Forbert

Alive on Arrival/Jack Rabbit Slim

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Given the brutal nature of the music business, it's not really surprising that singer and songwriter Steve Forbert was generally abandoned by it after his contract dispute with Nemperor following the release of his self-titled album in 1982. Due to contract issues, he wasn't allowed to record again for nearly six years -- a death sentence for most artists. It's a familiar story, but one that is particularly poignant and heartbreaking because ever since Forbert released the two albums included in this package, 1978's Alive on Arrival and 1979's Jackrabbit Slim, he has been one of the most consistent, canny, sophisticated songmen on the planet. This set is being issued on the 35th anniversary of the former title, a commemorative edition licensed by Blue Corn Music with a fine, very personal liner essay from David Wild and great sound. Perhaps what's most astonishing about these two albums is how timeless they are; as in-the-moment now as when they were recorded. Had Jackrabbit Slim been released in the 21st century, it would have been a hit on contemporary country radio effortlessly melding folk, blues, rock, and even R&B. (Keith Urban cut Forbert's biggest hit -- "Romeo's Tune" -- as the opening track for his 2008 Greatest Hits set. No matter the labyrinthine nature of Forbert's career, two things remain constant: his work is consistently excellent and original, and these two albums stand among the greatest freshman and sophomore releases in pop history. 1978's Alive on Arrival came out of nowhere and revealed a songwriter in full possession of his gifts, right out of the gate. Just take a listen to "Goin' Down to Laurel," "It Isn't Gonna Be That Way," "Tonight I Feel So Far Away from Home," and the rocking closer "You Cannot Win If You Do Not Play," to see if you agree. Jackrabbit Slim is, if anything, even stronger than its predecessor. Cut in Nashville with producer John Simon, it's a crystalline view of how country, folk, pop, and rock -- which we now casually refer to as "Americana" -- work together in a balance that is confident and sophisticated. Forbert understands implicitly what his lyrics and melodies need to put across, and there isn't anything extra. From "Romeo's Tune" to "I'm in Love with You," to "Say Goodbye to Little Jo," to "Make It All So Real," "Sadly Sorta Like a Soap Opera," and "January 23-30 1978," his writerly (not pretentious) storytelling, sly wit, and an empathy with his characters, leaves other songwriters -- many we celebrate as legend -- in the dust. Over both discs, there are a slew of session and live bonus tracks that, all tolled, result in a glorious package that contains 32 tracks. This is easily one of the best reissues of the year and serves to remind anyone who ever knew it -- and inform those who didn't -- that not only is Forbert special, but that these records are, and will remain, bona fide classics.

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