This guy's bringing a renewed sense of measuredly adventurous polyglottalism to a genre presently a bit stifled for lack of same. Remember Gabor Szabo's delicate work during the prime years (Bacchanal, Mizrab, etc.)? In Ten Gallon Turban, that's Steve K's jumping off point, basing in a mellifluous arabesque liquidly floating over to prairie refrains, an instrumental striking for its fusiony nature. Sunwheel Dance trots out some jumped-up Fahey, while Where I Belong has a reverential air, not gospelly but not far from it either, a spiritual ode to freedom through elder traditions, an "appreciate your roots" paean to home sweet home. The Salmonberry Thrush Jive is a git-down, leap-up, dance 'n jitter, cubist square dance with the guitarist backgrounding himself on mando, a piece again demonstrating a wont to blend forms outside the folkie tradition while laying its foundations throughout the release…even replete with scat (!).
Steve K's a fingerstyle player, primarily a one-man multi-tracked band but with appropriate sessioneers providing the fill-out, making each cut a fully fleshed tune. There are four vocals in the twelve-pak, instrumentals compose the remainder, but it's a consciousness of evolution which intrigues the listener most in all selections. Down to Earth is somewhat in the vein long ago had when Richie Havens, Paul Brett, and Al Stewart—to get fairly diverse—first burst on the scene, dragging a rucksack of disparate elements to the menu. Steve K's is not the dizzyingly Kottke-esque enneagrammatical dronework but just straightforward playing, attractive songs with clever hooks and pleasant progressions, though the solo A Boat With No Wake approaches more complex textures, becoming one of the CD's most engrossing tunes.
The lyrics are a tad fruity but Steve's vocal delivery is in the most honored tradition, a bit rough-hewn but honest and strongly held, turning authentic, stepping over the boundary from heartfelt cliché to musical element, perhaps best shown in Sailing to the Promised Land just before the lament-laden Down to Earth beds the listener down for the night, Serena Eades' violin lullabying in the slightly recessed background with a bit of Brahms, a touch of Satie, and an unusually delicate finale.
I have to add that the packaging is unique as well: not a micron of plastic other than the disc itself. A tri-pack design of fold-overs, this appears to be an attempt at environmental awareness, and a praiseworthy one, very nicely executed. If the industry's smart, it'll adopt it...but then, the industry's not very intelligent is it? Don't hold your breath.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Website design by David N. Pyles