The cover art of Austin blues-rock multi-instrumentalist Guy Forsyth's release Steak accurately portrays the music within. A beaming Forsyth, done up to look like a '50s über dad (goober dad?), is being served an enormous raw hunk o' meat by a June Cleaveresque mother as their hyper-happy children look on. The decor is retro-cool; the photo is hand-tinted. It is a very modern view of the past.
As is the music within. From the rumbling, quasi-medley of Bo Diddley's "Mona" through Forsyth's treatment of the venerable blues "Poor Boy," the Austinite offers invigorating arrangements of traditional American genres, as fresh as the enormous eponymous porterhouse. Prime cuts of American music icons, from Diddley to Muddy Waters, are on offer here. Also on board are stellar fellow travelers, including Steve James, the brilliant skinsman Barry "Frosty" Smith, Don Leady and Forsyth's former Asylum Street Spankers, Wammo and Stan Smith. Producer/engineer Dave McNair (of Los Super Seven fame) merits special mention for his mastery of the breathtaking studio effects that punctuate the album. A titanically striving effort, this, and one on which Forsyth's failures are noble and few.
It was a John Hammond performance that inspired Forsyth to sing the blues, and occasionally Hammond's over-emotive singing style is apparent -- especially on the frustrating "Good Time Man," the album's only flameout. The song is intriguingly conceived as an exploration of the John Lee Hooker-Ali Farka Toure/trans-Atlantic continuum, but Steve James's mandolin is too low in the mix. And if there was ever a tune for Forsyth to break out the electric saw, this was the one, and maddeningly it's not there. But he can sing within himself, as on the stately "Poor Boy," with excellent results .
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This is an album punctuated by commas, not periods. Evocative song-stories segue into one another as swiftly and seamlessly as the pages of a suspenseful novel. There is an intentional prose philosophy at work here; Forsyth presents his words in the CD booklet in story-form rather than as lyrics. On the musical end, the quarter-stops between songs give the disc a live feel.
Very much a disciple of Tom Waits, Forsyth has composed "trashcan symphonies" such as "Thibodaux Furlough" and "Adam's Rib," which are derivative of the chain-smoking ivory-tickler. There are worse musicians, of course, to imitate, and Forsyth is up to the task. These, in fact, don't sound like Tom Waits outtakes; they sound like Tom Waits title tracks.
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Those who crave more traditional rockin' blues and roots tunes will be sated by the likes of the SRV-channeling "Mad," the hard-driving "Cadillac," the kinetic chank-a-chanker "Lovin' Dangerously," and the jazzy shuffle "Makin' Money." As the cover photo implies, Steak is thick, juicy, and more than enough for one sitting.