Three Steve Forbert live albums have been released in only a little over five years, which may seem a little excessive for an artist whose concert performances do not match the reputation of the Grateful Dead or Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. But the earlier two, King Biscuit Flower Hour (1996) and Here's Your Pizza (1997), were archival releases, the former dating from 1982 and adequately summing up Forbert's early career, and the latter from 1987, a quirky set full of covers and less-known originals. Live at the Bottom Line, in contrast, released by Forbert's current label, KOCH, is a current look at the singer/songwriter's stage show, dating from a July 8, 2000, performance at the famed New York showcase club. Fronting his four-piece band, the Rough Squirrels, Forbert draws heavily from his recent studio records, doing six songs from his 2000 release Evergreen Boy and four from 1995's Mission of the Crossroad Palms. (1996's inconsistent Rocking Horse Head rates only one title, though.) Naturally, selected favorites from his first two albums, among them "Goin' Down to Laurel" and the hit "Romeo's Tune," are also included. Whatever period the songs come from, however, the approach is the same. Sometimes Forbert and the band rock a little harder, sometimes they ease up, but for the most part they play melodic, mid-tempo folk-rock that supports Forbert's earnest, wry lyrics, which he sings in a rusty, expressive tenor. The evenness of Forbert's music is both its chief virtue and its chief limitation: he is always pleasant and engaging, but rarely moving. In a live context, where he might be expected to kick up a fuss, he turns in tasteful recreations of his tunes. Thus, Live at the Bottom Line functions largely as a compilation of his music from the last five years.
Live at the Bottom Line Review
by William Ruhlmann