It's easy for folks to think of Steve Forbert as a singer/songwriter who burned out early -- after all, his debut album, 1978's Alive on Arrival, was his strongest critical success, and the follow-up, 1979's Jackrabbit Slim, was his biggest seller (and featured his only hit single, "Romeo's Tune"). But while his next two albums were hit-and-miss and Forbert dropped off the radar after record company troubles kept him out of the studio for six years, 1988's Streets of This Town found him in fine form, with a set of new songs that revealed an intelligence and maturity that bested most of his previous work. The American in Me was an equally strong follow-up in 1992, but it suffered from the same problem that dogged Streets of This Town -- Geffen, Forbert's new label, wasn't sure just how to promote either album, and neither found the audience they deserved. Geffen has been good enough -- 11 years after The American in Me fell on deaf ears -- to give the two albums a second chance with the compilation Rock While I Can Rock: The Geffen Years, which features both sets in their entirety on one disc. Digital remastering has done wonders for the audio quality of the material, and the passage of more than a decade as been kind to this music; Forbert's wordplay is stronger, more subtle, and less callow here than on his early sides, and the musical accompaniment (anchored by Forbert's road band the Rough Squirrels on Streets of This Town and by a studio crew fronted by producer Pete Anderson on The American in Me) is strong and sophisticated without sounding pretentious, and rocks out with easy confidence. This collection also includes a U.K.-only B-side, "The Only Normal People," which is a sharp and witty find that fans will doubtless enjoy. Rock While I Can Rock: The Geffen Years captures an underappreciated artist during a creative high point that more than a few listeners missed, and it's well worth a backward glance for both fans and newcomers.
Rock While I Can Rock: The Geffen Years Review
by Mark Deming