Steven Blane – Boulevard Of Broken Dreams – Album Review
Believe me when I tell ya, even if you didn’t read about legendary names like Elvis and Roy Orbison being an influence on artist Steven Blane, you’d certainly be able to hear it in the opening track of his new record, called “Cruel To Me” off of his upcoming album Boulevard Of Broken Dreams coming out this September 7th. Can’t help but to hear the comparisons in the vocals, songwriting, and sound – and heck, what better company could an artist keep than with titans of music’s history like Elvis & Roy right? Not a bad first impression at all there Steven – and I think the added flair of the rasp in his voice as he surges into the most intense moments of the melody in “Cruel To Me” stirs up all the right emotions, and also does much to separate him for feeling like he’s too much like any singular comparison. Dude’s got an impressively expressive voice, and this very first cut alone will give you a stellar introduction into what the man is capable of – he’s got a great mix of energy and evocative sound combined here that seamlessly moves through serene vibes and more aggressive moments in the melody that come booming through his biggest notes on the microphone, packing in the emotion a song with a theme like this should certainly come with. Almost begging for a reason to be sent packing in the midst of a relationship gone wrong – “Cruel To Me” is a lyrical mixture of not having that strength to leave, and inviting that reason to come along that might make the difference in changing that potential fate for the better somehow. I think they call that the George Costanza do they not? That whole gambit of getting the other person to do the dirty work, break it off, set you free…I mean, I ain’t gonna lie – sometimes we could all use the extra help in putting a definite end to some of the bad decisions we’ve made; a gentle push over the emotional cliff can be exactly what we need to eventually find the place we truly belong.
“Every Night I Dream Of You” was fantastic – quaint, sweet, pleasant from start to finish – it’d be pretty hard to object to a song with such beautiful sentiment and endearing vibes comin’ along with it. A love song that makes no attempt to hide itself, the good-times come flowing outta your speakers with ease here, sliding straight into our ears without hesitation on what’s one of the most accessible cuts on this album for sure. For all of two minutes & sixteen seconds, I think you gotta hand it to Steven for creating such an enticing little ditty with “Every Night I Dream Of You” – I can’t imagine anyone out there is gonna object to this one or get up to cross the room & turn it off – it’s fun, it’s sweet, it’s actually quite addictive when all is said & done – Blane sparkles & shines throughout this tune practically mercilessly, and draws us in with compelling character & smooth charm. Steven you ol’ honeydripper you – how are we supposed to resist such sweet sentiment & sound combined? We can’t and you know it – well done.
Those of you out there thinking Steven might all of a sudden jump into a cover of the Green Day mega-hit by spotting the identical song title…will be savagely let down…but I mean, c’mon – at this point on the album already, hopefully you’ve realized that this ain’t gonna be that – if you were expecting that somehow, it’s kinda on you. Steven is doing his own thing, and he does it really well when it comes right down to it – it’s not at all in lockstep with the current pulse of the Top 40 scene, nor is it intended to be – he’s a genuine artist that proudly goes his own way, making the music he loves and would listen to himself – and there are plenty of people out there to join him that will more than dig on his classic vibes and timeless sound. “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” probably doesn’t quite grab me personally as much as the opening two tracks do overall, but that’s not to say it doesn’t contain its own standout highlight moments, which it certainly does. At the end of the day, if I’m being as honest with ya as always, I’d tell ya that the outstanding voice of Steven Blane should be more than enough to win over the hearts & minds listening in every single scenario you’ll find throughout this album – and in leveling-up significantly to the finale of this title-track right here, he gives you a brilliant example of exactly why that’s the case. This is where you can really hear the art & craft in the songwriting of Steven Blane, the poetic nature of the words and the inherent mix of gritty imagery & down-to-earth observations his lyricism contain in examining life & love – the “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” sure ain’t gonna be the happiest song you’re gonna hear this year as the title would imply –but you’ll likely be surprised by how much it just plain ol’ feels good to listen to this man’s music and its triumphant surge straight to the end. There’s more of an artistic bend here in this particular tune for sure…but I gotta admit, where I was originally hesitant and not entirely sure this would connect to listeners out there, after healthy repeats over here in listening…I dunno…I really can’t help but think that Steven’s performance is strong enough to really convince us all. He makes these moments vivid and real with the passion in his performances.
While I’d readily concede that the hook of “The Bridge” really is the fact that it’s been created, when it comes to how much effort, sincerity, and heart that Steven puts into his material, you can always hear it. You can hear it in his voice, you can hear it in his words, you can absolutely hear it in his biggest notes for sure…he’s got a kind spirit, and that comes through crystal clear in his music – when it comes to a tributary track like “The Bridge,” trust me when I say, songs like this wouldn’t get made without having one. I’m all about concept material when it makes sense and as listeners, we can get to the core of the message or theme without it all quite having to be spelled out 100% – and I think Blane deserves a lot of credit here for a song that a lot of people out there might actually assume it’s about John Lewis, who inspired “The Bridge.” As in, it’s because Steven’s loaded this up with the right sentiment, the right imagery, the right spirit, and identifiable aspects like the title itself – “The Bridge” comes out as a winning tribute that people will recognize for what it is without a doubt – and that ain’t always easy folks…in fact, it’s a lot harder to accomplish than many would think. Steven’s done an exceptional job of paying tribute to a legendary hero in our world that’s gone too soon – and it’s songs just like this that prove his effect on the hearts & minds of the people will never be forgotten or ever dull in its presence.
Gonna have to vote no on “Mother Got My Goose” based on my own personal-taste, but I’m happy to confirm the quality of the performance is as inspired and steady as you’ll find in any other track on this record too. I’ve got a real thing about nursery rhymes showing up in music, so that’s on me, not on Steven…nothing personal in that regard. Between that and some sort of counting sequence from one to ten occurring in a song, I can never quite decide which seems to get the hairs on my neck standing up more instantly in defiant resistance. I ain’t sayin’ this song isn’t clever, it is…and I’m not suggesting this might not very well become one of YOUR favorite tracks – maybe it will be…the reality of how we listen to music and what does/doesn’t connect to us personally, affects us all in some way, and in this particular instance, I must bow out, respectfully. Still sounds good, I ain’t gonna lie to ya – I could listen to Steven sing me the phonebook and I’d be more than happy – and moments like the instrumental breakdown around the 1:40 were stellar too, allowing the musicianship to get a second or two in the spotlight, as it deserves. You won’t find much to complain about when it comes to how Blane’s music is put together – it really just comes down to what ya like to listen to and what ya don’t – quality-wise, he’s consistent through & through, track after track. If nursery rhymes are your jam, right on, turn this up – no judgments here y’all, we all like what we like & that’s exactly what makes our world turn ‘round.
Songwriting-wise, Steven reveals all the hallmarks of a truly classic sound & timeless style – like, for real – both Roy and Elvis would have been proud to have a cut like “Two Broken Hearts, One Heartache” in their catalogs, and yep – Blane will remind you of both equally as he sings his way through this song. The man really, really likes to sing…I’ve got the feeling if you asked Steven what his favorite part of making music truly is, he wouldn’t be able to deny it’s the opportunity to sing it all out loud & proud. “Two Broken Hearts, One Heartache” examines what happens when you’re trying to move on and love keeps tugging at your heartstrings…the whole push/pull of the aftermath of relationships and how tough that scenario can genuinely be, as many of you know and would certainly relate to here. It’s a bit more low-key than some of the other cuts on this record in terms of energy or moments that’ll grab you specifically – but the writing is definitely on-point, I love the piano chiming in, and Steven’s biggest moments from the microphone can’t help but stand out for all the right reasons. I mean it in the best of ways when I say he brings an authentically tortured sound to his voice in the emotion threaded into “Two Broken Hearts, One Heartache” – lovin’ ain’t easy y’all, and when it goes south, it sounds like this.
I am absolutely going to bat for “Bliss” – I think this is one of the most exceptional songs you’ll find on this entire album without question…and of course, I’ll give ya my two cents on why that is a FACT, and not just merely opinion. I have written on these pages for years about just how tough it can be to tap into the happier side of music without sounding trite, pretentious, or conniving…and if you want the blueprint on how to do it right, “Bliss” is about one of the best examples I feel like I could point towards. Everything about this song hits a massive homerun for me – the hooks are 100% INCREDIBLE – they’re demanding as vocals gets too…nearly heading into that Righteous Brothers-esque level of falsetto when it comes to what’s required – but make no mistake, Steven nails this with the right combination of real personality & charm that makes it work brilliantly. Earnest, humble, sweet, and sincere – “Bliss” comes out as sentimental, delicate, and dreamy as it’s intended to – it’s exactly what the title implies, and one of the unquestionable highlights of this set-list on Boulevard Of Broken Dreams that can’t help but stand out as you listen to this record. Not much else I can say other than Steven’s exceeded every expectation I could have had with the ingenuity and clever melody he’s put into this song – he makes really smart stylistic choices here that enhance the whole experience, and comes out with a beautifully memorable moment in time – I won’t forget a song like “Bliss” any time soon, or likely ever – I love this song, 100%.
Even when he takes a…hmm…more aggressive lyrical approach, let’s say that – he still manages to sound impressively inviting & welcoming at all times. For example, the next two cuts – one called “None So Blind” that goes on to confirm that “fools never learn” – and the even more directly pointed cut called “Pour Me A Beer That’s As Cold As My Ex-Girlfriend’s Heart” that follows. Like…Steven…tell us how you REALLY feel would ya? I ain’t sayin’ I disagree with him – quite the opposite, especially when it comes to “None So Blind” – I can definitely get behind what he’s singing about here, as far as I can tell, he’s entirely accurate. It’s more bubbly & upbeat than you’d probably expect to find, but the resulting contrast works wonders for how we absorb Steven’s words and how quickly they’ll reach us. He’s unafraid to call each and every one of us out in a few ways here…and some of us more than others I’m sure – but like I said, at the end of the day, “None So Blind” is a pretty observant, open, and honest tune – Blane’s clearly a straight shooter when it comes to his songwriting & he’s right on target here for sure.
“Pour Me A Beer That’s As Cold As My Ex-Girlfriend’s Heart” should OBVIOUSLY win the trophy this year for the best song-title out there…and it’s probably not nearly as Country-fied as you’d probably expect it to be, not that that’s the direction any of these other songs have gone for that matter. You might find a comparable Country element here & there in a few tunes, but Steven’s much more a part of the Americana/Folk/Pop crowd than anything Country, and so there’s so much more personality in his music that you couldn’t squeeze him into the Adult Contemporary genre even if you pushed with all your might. He’s got versatile tunes on this record…acoustically-based for the most part, or at the very least quite often delicate and comforting in their demeanor – believe it or not, “Pour Me A Beer That’s As Cold As My Ex-Girlfriend’s Heart” still follows consistently in that regard, despite what Blane has to say. “A lager or stout, it don’t matter to me” – I like that he’s not concerned about the kind of beer he’s about to drink so much as the temperature…I can get behind that…ain’t nothing worse than a warm beer, and if you really wanna feel what cold-hearted really is in this world, it’s drinking one of those. The reality is, Steven’s working with a conceptual cut that somewhat explores that a tried, tested, and true style of songwriting…I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s incorporating a gimmick, but it’s a trick that tends to work in the same way…that punch-line style of songwriting where you can see the hook coming – think along the lines of stuff like…well…just about everything Bryan Adams has ever done…”the only thing that looks good on me…” (waiiiiiiiiiiiit for it……..waiiiiiit….*bum *bum * dramatic beat) – “…is YOU.” “Pour Me A Beer That’s As Cold As My Ex-Girlfriend’s Heart” is completely different in the way it sounds from someone like Adams, but make no mistake, it’s a method of songwriting that’s been around for much longer than Bryan, much longer than Steven, much longer than me, or you – and it’ll be here long after we’re gone as well. And there’s a reason for that – simple & plain – people love what they can clearly see coming in what they listen to & get pumped up to sing along when they know that main line & hook is about to happen & reveal itself in a song; we all do, naturally, and I’d imagine, we always will.
The final track on Boulevard Of Broken Dreams would easily be right up there with my favorites on this record, as Steven adds a subtle Gospel-esque twist into the sweet melody & words of “Guardian Angel.” In terms of what you’ll hear on this new record, there’s no doubt that “Guardian Angel” will likely come out as the song that reminds you most of something else you’ve previously heard somewhere along the way – you can’t argue with a tune that comes out as seamless & special as this one sounds. He’s got a track here that, lyrically, would fit right in there with some of the best of the best by artists like Tom Waits or early Billy Joel…”Guardian Angel” has that brilliant mix of thought-provoking wisdom & imagery in the lyricism & storylines that stir our souls – and Steven puts in a vibrant & lively performance that perfectly captures the sincerity of his words & makes this moment real for us, as listeners. There’s a bit of me that feels like this particular cut could be relegated to the Christmastime celebrations of y’all out there – but really, Blane’s got a much more tributary & universal theme that could very well be brought out with a mug of good cheer at any time and be fully welcomed. It makes for a genuinely quaint and conclusive ending…you hear “Guardian Angel” and you know you’ve arrived at the very end, which I always appreciate in a record & listening experience – I’ve enjoyed every second listening to Steven Blane sing, and throughout Boulevard Of Broken Dreams, he’s revealed spectacular depth in his music & songwriting that takes you right from the golden era of sound on-forward with real sincerity and charm. All-in-all, Boulevard Of Broken Dreams is a refreshing step outta that madness of today’s world and a deep dive back into the stellar past of music’s history, style-wise…it’s a tremendous pleasure to listen to.
Find more music by Steven Blaine at his official page at Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/artist/4gyEJTCRIpfMMC9IhLflQR
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