Moondragon Records [Release date 24.03.18]
Steve Logan is a Welsh roots rocker, bordering on Americana, who explores a musical arc that merges the acoustic singer songwriter mode with what he terms “high octane rock”.
He’s a song writer whose relationship to Neil Young is arguably what Oasis was to The Beatles. Both parties came up with something all of their own, while leaving the listener in no doubt as to where their musical inspirations came from.
He’s also one part Bob Dylan, as evidenced by his poetic stream of consciousness lyrics that carry enough depth to keep us interested over a dozen tracks, even if they sometime border on the obtuse.
On the second part of his cultural chronicle ‘Yesterday’s Hero (Part 2)’ he overtly references his influences as part of a subtext that suggests the times are indeed a changing: “And we still need the poets, Joni Bobbi and Neil, with a muse at their shoulder, to express what they feel, on a billion front porches.”
Musically he evokes Neil Young, while his rhymes cast their spell and hover over a ragged mid-tempo dirgy track. He also chooses to ignore the tension breaking possibility of a final solo to eclipse the number’s 8 minute plus duration.
In many ways ‘Backstreets Of Eden’ is almost the album Neil Young didn’t make. For aside from Logan’s completely different vocal range (of which more later), he explores Young’s characteristic rustic blues harp, his dirgy buzz tone guitar and Young’s penchant for open ended verse. The latter provides a pivotal focus for 12 linked songs that beguile us, even if they don’t always go anywhere.
They aren’t so much thematically linked as simply belonging to the same cosmic source. And Logan is smart enough to pay attention to the sequencing to explore light and shade, on an album that might otherwise have been in danger of being top heavy with over familiar riffs and guitar tones.
He mixes heavy duty fuzz guitar with contrasting acoustic and harp flecked pieces that emphasize space, dynamics, a cleaner tone and of course his pristine voice.
And if the album as a whole is never too far away from a significant Young influenced riff or guitar line, his own unique eclectic lyrics gives ‘Backstreets of Eden’ its unique character.
So having pulled us here and there with his narratives and Neil Young stylings, Logan finally unveils his own style on the delicately delivered ‘Faker’.
His featherbed acoustic is matched by an aching harp, as his gentle timbre wraps itself round an avalanche of relentless poetic lines such as: “Trying to make sense of who we are, like the wild moon in a man made reservoir.”
In fact his best moments are often to be found in the middle of a song, be it the titular metaphor of the opening ‘Spotlight’, or the acoustic guitar, nuanced harpsichord and emotive phrasing of the title track.
Then there’s the way in which – by design or otherwise – the resolving drop-down of ‘Lead In My Pencil’ at the 3 minute mark, evokes his lyrical imagery before a concluding sonic drone: “And the sun shines so brightly, the clouds fade away.”
He then signs off in a faux falsetto mode on the ‘Hyacinth Girl’, as he delivers yet more poetic imagery:” Just like now the Autumn rain feeds the land, and love reaches down for more than it can understand.”
It’s worth dwelling on his lyrical acumen, as his verses cascade like the mid 70′s Bob Dylan, while the breathless delivery again owes much to Young, as he draws the listener in.
That said, the album labours slightly from Logan’s overuse of grungy guitar lines. In the hands of Neil Young the buzz tones build up an intensity that allows him to explore an emotional honesty that renders his wavering, but plaintive vocal acceptable. Logan on the other hand, pursues a more straight arrow vocal style, which is only occasionally capable of extending beyond his natural range. And it’s that significant gap between the portentous growling guitar lines and his own light vocal style that precludes the album from having the sort of impact it might otherwise have.
For example, on the harp led ‘Lucky Dollar’, his voice is partly layered behind the guitar line, on a track that might have enjoyed a bigger impact denuded of its fuzz guitar.
On the Young style riff-led ‘Skylark’, the muscular mid-number guitar break sets the scene for a significant vocal delivery that never happens. Logan’s timbre is resonant and his diction clear, but he’s closer to being a folk singer rather than a rough hewn rock vocalist.
The irony is that having penned such colourful songs with tight arrangements and a locker full of riffs, he’s partly too focussed on his lyrics to let the music breathe.
He’s far happier on the impressive riff driven ‘Biding My Time’, on which his voice rises above a wall of grunge guitar to successfully reach for a defining line before a climatic crescendo: ” In the gallery of heroes, you walk like a queen sublime.”
It’s on moments like this that you realise he’s got something unique. Sure the track is once again shot through with the ghost of Neil Young, but he achieves his goal of shaping his own material.
From Judy Logan’s pencilled nude frontispiece, via the CD booklet’s evocative photos and Steve Logan’s poetic imagery counterweighted by steely riffs, ‘Backstreets Of Eden’ invites us to immerse ourselves in a lyric led aesthetic.
It’s an album that shines a singer songwriter’s light on a filmic landscape and makes enough of an impact for us to reach for the repeat button. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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