Steve Noonan's only album is a fair-at-best effort, on the cusp between the folk-rock and singer/songwriter eras. The songs -- some written with Greg Copeland, one written alone, one written with Jackson Browne, and four penned by Browne alone -- are abstract, oft-romantic ruminations with elusive wordplay. The drawback, however, is that the wordplay is not so stimulating and clever, nor is the music inviting enough to reward the intense listening needed to dig into them and try and get a handle on what the singer might be trying to express. The melodies are soothing and unusually constructed, yet unmemorable and, like the lyrics, lack handles to command attention. In some ways they're similar to Tim Buckley's excursions into art-folk-rock on his first albums, yet Buckley outdistances Noonan by many miles on all fronts (and especially as a singer). There's a distinctively Elektra house-sound vibe to the arrangements and production -- folk-rock as the base, embellished with interesting speckles of guitar reverb and bells. (Oddly, no producer, arrangers, or session musicians are credited on the sleeve, although there is a back cover photo credit for Linda Eastman, who was soon to marry Paul McCartney.) Yet while the Elektra folk-rock house sound was in itself very good, it wasn't in and of itself enough, needing good singers and material to come across. And it's as a singer that Noonan's shortcomings are most apparent, his vocals sounding ill at ease and characterless. The best of the lot are "Back Alley Dream Street Song" (which is certainly the most Tim Buckley-esque of the lot) and "Street Singer," with its self-consciously surreal lyrics and odd quasi-psychedelic guitar reverb; there's also Noonan's own version of "Buy for Me the Rain," which had already been a small hit for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. But it's just a curio, mostly of note for those who want a complete Elektra discography, or Jackson Browne obsessives.
Steve Noonan Review
by Richie Unterberger