What’s The Rockbrat Listening To Today ? STEVE YOUNG – HONKY TONK MAN (1975)

Steve_Young_-_Honky_Tonk_ManMan I love Steve Young. One of the most under-appreciated of all country musicians who rose to prominence at the same time as many of his outlaw country peers, which included guys like Steve Earle, David Allan Coe, Townes Van Zandt, and Gary Stewart. Incidentally, Gary Stewart’s body of work is also phenomenal, and worthy of your attention, yet that’s a story for another time. Now in that list, most people will only recognize the name of Steve Earle, and the more astute may be familiar with Townes Van Zandt, yet you could do worse than punch any of these guys names into You Tube and discover what amazing artists they truly are. Better yet, go and watch the movie from a few years back called Heartworn Highways, that focus’ on Nashville in 1975 – with many of these guys (including the great Guy Clark and Rodney Crowell) starting to rise. Steve Earle is in this film, as a raw and youthful 20 year old. The irony that Earle is more of name than guys like Guy Clark and Steve Young just goes to show you that fate can be a funny thing. In this film, Steve Young plays a great version of one of his best songs, ‘Alabama Highway’ and it makes you realize just how good Young is, and that he was damn unlucky not to have more success than he did. Steve Young was born in 1942 and I suppose is best known for his “Seven Bridges Road”.  He was a  pioneer of the country rock / Americana /  alternative country sound, and his first album, “Rock Salt & Nails” which came out on A&M in 1969. Gram Parsons & Gene Clark played on this album. His best-known composition is “Seven Bridges Road”, off his second album, which became a major hit for Eagles when they included a cover of it on their live album in 1980. Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the subject of this post – Steve Young’s third album, 1975’s ‘Honky Tonk Man’.  There are 12 tunes of this album, five penned by Young.  There is a studio version of the aforementioned ‘Alabama Highway’ which sends shivers down my spine when he hits those high notes, a true road song if ever I heard one. My favourite Steve Young tune ever. Pure. This guys has outlaw country in spades and an authenticity about him that you can’t find in Nashville nowadays  ‘Traveling Kind’ has some fast pickin’ and is another outlaw tale of a lonely man ridin’ the rails  – that holds plenty of appeal to me. (Could have been the soundtrack to the 1973 Ernest Borgnine film, ‘Emperor Of The North’). ‘Vision of a Child’ is brilliant, superb in its simplicity, yet lyrically large, about a child sleeping and dreaming of the stars. If that sounds corny, appreciating the uncomplicatedness and wonder of a child dreaming, than corny I am.  You stay glued to your stoopid ipad, and I’ll stick to Steve Young’s lyrics. ‘We’ve Been Together on This Earth Before” is again, resplendent in lyrical colour whilst ‘The White Trash Song’ is indeed a redneck’s lament. Of the other tunes on the album, a cover of Johnny Horton’s ‘Honky Tonk Man’ is as catchy, foot tapping and genuine as you need, whilst the cover of Utah Phillips’ ‘Rock Salt and Nails’ is stunning in its starkness, with Young’s vocals hanging on every note. This is a stunning song. So simple, so effective.  ‘Rockin’ Chair Money’ is another highlight. Up-tempo, country rock at its finest, whilst Hank Williams’ ‘Ramblin Man’ stays true to the original, plaintive, with Young hitting the high notes and doing justice to Hank’s classic. Steve Young has a realness, a grittiness, a sincerity to his music that comes from a life on the roads and growing up in a poor family in Alabama and then Georgia. This quality enables him to perform others tunes and make them his own. His slowed down version of Robbie Robertson’s ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ is a great example of this. Superb. 9 out of 10.  www.steveyoung.net

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