Saturday, September 11, 2010

Late: Born Too Late

Steve Forbert: Born Too Late


Steve Forbert is one of those artists whose early career is a case study in major label mismanagement. His debut album in 1978 was Alive on Arrival. The album revealed a young man full of optimism who had hooks galore and played a sunny brand of folk-pop. He was also a talented songwriter who had a gift for evoking a sense of place, and whose songs radiated warmth and good humor. Jackrabbit Slim, the follow-up, showed production that was somewhat more heavyhanded, but the same essential qualities shone through, and Frobert had a hit with Romeo’s Tune. But there was trouble brewing even then. I saw Forbert during the Jackrabbit Slim tour. He was playing with an all-out rock band, and many of the best qualities of his songs were buried under a wall of volume. Forbert’s third album, Little Stevie Orbit, came out in 1980, and it failed to yield another hit. In fact, the album did not sell in anything like the numbers the label wanted. And then, nothing was heard from Forbert for 12 years.

Eventually, it came out that Forbert had spent that time fighting to get out of his contract. I believe it was the usual litany of problems. Forbert was upset at the total lack of support from the label. They wanted him to take his music in a direction he didn’t want to go. Finally, Forbert reemerged in 1992 with the album The American in Me on a new label. The sunny optimism was gone. Some of the songs showed lingering bitterness. Born Too Late reflects some of the old sound, but the song reflects on missed opportunities. Forbert had been away so long that the efforts to market him had to start over. And he would never again reach the level of popularity he had so briefly known. But he remains a talented songwriter with an unmistakable voice. These days, he controls his career and makes the music he wants to make. It is well worth seeking out.

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