Seasick Steve

I Started Out with Nothin' and I Still Got Most of It Left

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After an appearance on British TV, Seasick Steve (aka Steve Wold) found himself thrust into the spotlight after decades spent as a hobo, a busker, and a sound engineer. His earnest brand of classic blues struck a strong chord in the midst of so much overproduced music of the day, and as they had done decades before, Brits lined up for the simple pleasures of American blues, which led Steve to a major-label release which quickly made it into the Top 10. While some fans (and critics) had worried that major-label production would kill the bare-bones aesthetic that really made Steve's music shine, that proved a non-issue for the most part. I Started Out with Nothin' and I Still Got Most of It Left opens with the title track, probably the most produced piece present. It's a simple thumping blues in the vein of John Lee Hooker, with some nice but unnecessary vocals courtesy of Ruby Murray. Steve's voice is smooth, almost sensual compared to the gravelly gutbucket one might have been expecting. The production doesn't get in the way of the music too much, though the overall effect is a bit more grandiose than Steve's sound really would call for. Luckily, the sound gets decidedly less smooth as the album moves along, emphasizing Steve's aesthetic a bit more -- his vocals remain smooth, but the compositions are a little more folksy, a little more Southern. Though the album gets a bit sidetracked by the interspersed bits of BBC documentary (ranging from storytelling to clips of Steve ordering lunch), it's hard to stop him when he gets on a good roll. On tracks like "Thunderbird" (a rocking electric blues devoted to his favorite fortified wine) or "Chiggers" (a start-and-stop bit of acoustic blues in a little bit of a Texas vein), he lets loose on the guitar with a full load of joy -- it's clear that he's just having fun here, and the songs shine in response. He can go more contemplative (as on "My Youth"), but Seasick Steve is really in his element on the lighter side of the blues -- country-blues nostalgia, train-riding stories, Taj Mahal-style rolling, and tumbling blues (including of course, the track "Roll and Tumble Blues"). The album's got flaws, it's got some dead ends, and at least at times he seems to be emulating his heroes (John Lee Hooker, Taj Mahal) more than creating new music. However, the album is also easily one of the better blues releases in the last few years and is excellent at what appears to be its original goal -- evoking simple joy.

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