In 1978, Steve Forbert was the fresh-faced kid with an acoustic guitar and a rack harmonica, a folkie with enough spunk to play CBGB on a regular basis. In 2015, he doesn't look all that different on the cover of Compromised, still holding that guitar and smiling with a sloppy shirt tail testifying to his enduring scruffiness. But Compromised sounds like the work of a much more nostalgic and pensive man than Forbert was when "Romeo's Tune" was filling up the airwaves. He may be the first person to try to give Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns" any sort of pop music credibility in at least two decades, and here he includes original songs about both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. "You'd See the Things That I See" is a sentimental but effective number about Lennon and McCartney meeting for the first time, and "Welcome the Rolling Stones" concerns the disastrous 1969 Altamont Speedway concert without mentioning anything bad that happened, a notion akin to singing about having a great time on the Titanic. Elsewhere, Forbert seems especially worried about his wandering eye and disloyal thoughts, themes that pop up on "Devil (Here She Comes Now)," "Drink Red Wine," and "A Big Comeuppance," and he wistfully recalls the past on "Time Seemed So Free" while trying to make sense of the present in "Whatever, Man." Compromised plays like Forbert's belated mid-life crisis album, but if his voice sounds a good bit rougher than it did when he was actually in his mid-forties, the grain often works for the material, and he's smart enough to phrase it in a way that meshes with the notes that have become elusive. Forbert put together a great band for this project, including NRBQ bassist Joey Spampinato, Lou Cataldo on drums, Kami Lyle on keys and trumpet, and Tad Price on guitar, and the production gives the music a warm, open feel that suits this music's balance between city-fied folk and laid-back rock. Most artists find themselves thinking about getting older before they hit 60, but if it's taken a while for Forbert to warm to the topic. For the most part he handles it well on Compromised, and what's here should please longtime fans as well as more casual observers.
by Mark Deming