Mississippi-born Steve Forbert came to fame in the late 1970’s, springing out of the NYC coffee-house scene with a style that combined punk-rock energy with a sweeter, poetic sensibility. With a distinctive voice and a gift for combining words and melody that can leave you humming (or crying) before you know it, Forbert was — like Loudon Wainwright III, young Springsteen, and so many others — somewhat cursed by the “New Dylan” mantle critics handed him with the release of “Romeo’s Tune” (which rose to #11 on the Billboard charts) and the album Jackrabbit Slim in 1979.
You may have heard “Romeo” covered by others, most recently Mr. Nicole Kidman, but here’s a very good — better than the record — live version from around the time Forbert’s career was picking up speed. Dig the hair and clothes and the fact that it’s on a NYC channel that promotes itself as the home of “classics” and “disco.” Disco, this ain’t.
Romeo’s Tune (1979)
After a few frustrating years of record company shenanigans — an equally successful follow-up to his surprise hit was not forthcoming — Forbert got another shot at the brass ring in 1988: a new record deal, a new producer (Springsteen’s bassist, the great Gary Tallent), and a new batch of songs that are, in my opinion, his very best. Streets of this Town is a record I’ve come back to at various points in my life, and every time it feels even more poignant. My favorite, if not the best, song on the album, is “I Blinked Once.” Here’s a great live performance of the tune from the year it was released.
I Blinked Once (1989)
Again, the fame didn’t last: great reviews in Rolling Stone and elsewhere never translated into the fame he (or this album) deserved.
Over thirty years removed from his brief “one hit wonder,” Forbert is still out there playing, making records, and writing songs. He still has the gift, and the passion: I hope he never stops.
If you like what you hear, check out more at Steve Forbert’s home on the web.