Sunday, May 17, 2009

May 17: Steve Poltz, "Chinese Vacation"

Artist: Steve Poltz
Album: Chinese Vacation
Year: 2003
Label: 98 Pounder

When it comes to the finest songwriters of the past twenty years, one simply cannot ignore the sheer brilliance of San Diego's Steve Poltz. Though perhaps best known for co-writing Jewel's mega-hit, "You Were Meant For Me," it is Poltz's solo work that makes him one of the greatest musicians in history. Always attempting to add new moods to the traditional "singer songwriter" style, Poltz consistently creates some of the most quriky and brilliant songs in today's music scene. From fronting The Rugburns, to co-writing and performing with Jewel, to his own amazing solo releases, Poltz seems to have an endless supply of amazing songs. Taking nearly five full years after his solo debut, Poltz released his spectacular follow up with 2003's Chinese Vacation.

There were two major factors behind the delay in the second album from Steve Poltz. First off, Chinese Vacation marks Poltz's first release on his own label, 98 Pounder Records. Secondly, following the attacks of "9/11," Poltz scrapped the album and started again from scratch. Poltz seems to even reference the event during the song, "You Remind Me" when he sings the line, " aero-plane, gone astray..." However, Poltz's trademark wit is all over the record, often hiding the beautiful themes within his words. With titles like "Give You Up For Lent" and an outstanding over of TLC's, "Waterfalls," Chinese Vacation shows the seemingly boundless talent and appeal that lays within Steve Poltz. Much of the appeal of the record is the fact that it is clear that, at the end of the day, Poltz loves his profession and truly enjoys making music. It is the conveyance of this love that makes the music of Steve Poltz a true treasure. His love for music comes through even more clearly in his eclectic, often wild live performances, where Poltz is usually having as much, if not more fun, than the audience.

While a majority of the music of Steve Poltz is simply the man and his guitar, throughout his solo studio recordings, Poltz experiments with everything from string sections to having the Mighty Mighty Bosstones lend some horns. On Chinese Vacation, Poltz incorporates brilliant string arrangements, with his guitar in the front, and the resulting musical landscape is nothing short of stunning. With fellow singer-songwriter Billy Harvey jumping in with a wide assortment of instruments, along with fantastic pedal-steel work from Mike Hardwick, the musical variety on Chinese Vacation helps the record to transcend the "guy and guitar" genre. With backing sounds ranging from an accordion to a wurlitzer, and even a kazoo, it is the ecclectic nature of Chinese Vacation, contrasted with the consistantly amazing lyrics and singing from Poltz that makes this album so enjoyable.

Steve Poltz has one of the most pure and universally pleasing voices in todays music scene. Using no "studio tricks," the result on his records is always organic and honest, furthering the authenticity within his music. Poltz's voice is always clear and calm, and even when he gets excited and a bit wild in the songs, the lyrical presentation never suffers. The true magic of Steve Poltz has always lain in his absolutely sensational lyrics. Constantly hopping the line between silly and smart, there is truly no other talent on the planet like Poltz. While many will write songs like the title track off as "silly," underneath the clever lyrics happens to be a hip, beautiful love song...mostly...because sometimes Poltz's silly is just silly...and there's nothing wrong with that. When Poltz gets serious though, the results are always something beyond stunning. Case in point is the heartbreakingly gorgeous, "Stax." Easily one of the most soul-bearing, poignant songs ever written, the song represents just how brilliant a talent there is in the pen of Poltz.

Steve Poltz is a musical talent of epic proportions, plain and simple. Releasing music for the better part of twenty years, Poltz has written some of the most amazing and beautiful songs of that time period. With an uncanny ability to write both silly and sentimental songs, often within the same tune, Poltz's music is always original and enjoyable. Bringing a live show that is consistently as memorable, Steve Poltz is truly a hidden gem within the current world of music. Each of his albums, whether with The Rugburns, or his solo releases, are all worth treasuring, as are the myriad of live recordings that openly circulate. After taking a few years off following his solo debut, Steve Poltz recorded, scrapped, and re-recorded his brilliant 2003 album, Chinese Vacation. Released on his own 98 Pounder Records, it remains an absolute essential for every music collection.

Standout tracks: "Chinese Vacation," "Stax," and "Lost Without You."

No comments: