Steve Poltz – Shine On (album and concert review)
I always seem to get nervous when I meet an artist. I presume it’s because I’m in total awe of their ability to create a work of art right in front of my eyes. However, whenever I get the chance I force myself to overcome my nervousness and take the opportunity to thank them for sharing their gift with me. If there’s an opportunity for an autograph it makes my effort even more worthwhile.
I was very nervous the first time I met singer-songwriter Steve Poltz. It was the second day of the 2018 Kingsville Folk Music Festival in Kingsville, ON. It was the first time my wife and I had attended the three-day event. The organizers had put together a stellar lineup (Cowboy Junkies, Sylvia Tyson, Madison Violet, Harrow Fair, Ariana Gillis, and Steve Poltz to name a few), and I’d been fortunate enough to get the time off work, so we packed up our camper trailer and made the three-hour drive from Cambridge to Kingsville.
Steve Poltz had come highly recommended by people we respect like Joel Plaskett and Jan Hall (Folk Roots Radio), so we were thrilled that we’d finally have a chance to see him perform. Fortunately, I’d also recently discovered a previously-enjoyed copy of Steve’s 2010 album Dreamhouse at a record store in Ottawa. So our old portable record player and several albums, including Dreamhouse, made the trip with us to Kingsville.
With some trepidation, I approached Steve side-stage before one of the workshops, album and sharpie in my hand. The thing about the album was that Steve had already autographed it. On it, he had written “To Abby! (drawing of a heart) Steve Poltz.” Needless to say, this made me even more nervous, but I figured if anything I’d heard about Steve Poltz was true, surely he would see the humour in it.
Steve’s kind and generous demeanor quickly put me at ease, and he was very gracious with his time. We discussed Abby and how her autographed copy of Dreamhouse had ended up in the used section of an Ottawa record store. Possible scenarios include: she’d hated it, her now ex-boyfriend had given it to her, or maybe the poor thing had passed away. We chatted about our mutual respect for Joel Plaskett. Then Steve took my sharpie and album, drew a line through Abby and wrote “TED! This is now your record.” In that instant, I became a fan for life.
Steve Poltz’s main stage performance that weekend was the absolute highlight of our first trip to the Kingsville Folk Music Festival. We were in total awe of his ability to make it feel as though he had completely filled the space (in this case, a park in the middle of Kingsville) with his music and his energy. He blew us away with his flawless guitar playing, and he has by far the best stage banter we have ever heard. We vowed to see him whenever we could.
Steve Poltz has released 13 solo albums starting with 1998’s One Left Shoe. His latest album, Shine On, was released on March 1 by Red House Records. It was produced by Will Kimbrough, who Steve sought out after relocating from San Diego to Nashville. Will Kimbrough has worked with Emmylou Harris, Jimmy Buffett, and Rodney Crowell. The ten-song album is available on yellow vinyl – at Steve’s insistence – and the liner notes list Bryan Owings on drums and producer Will Kimbrough on all other guitars, bass and “weird sounds.”
Recently we had an opportunity to see Steve again, but this time, the setting was very different than the main stage of a multi-day music festival. It was our second time attending one of the Seven Gables Concert Series house concerts in Guelph, ON. Our first visit was for a Craig Cardiff show in the host’s living room. This time, Steve Poltz would be performing in their attic. Once again, the hosts were gracious, and the space was full.
It was amazing! Steve skillfully read the room, as he had read the crowd from the main stage at Kingsville, and presented a show perfectly suited to the space. With seemingly natural ability and while exuding the sense that he was having even more fun than the audience, he made us listen, think and sing along. He made us feel sad, and he made us feel happy. We’ve actually never laughed so hard or sung along so much at a concert. Steve is a consummate performer, and his live show is a must-see for any live music fan.
During the intermission, I approached Steve nervously with my new vinyl copy of Shine On that I’d snagged from the merch table before the show started. Once again, Steve graciously autographed it, then we chatted about how cool the attic space was as a venue.
While nothing can compare to seeing Steve Poltz perform live, Shine On is the perfect companion to our memories of seeing him in Kingsville and Guelph. Having the benefit of seeing Steve live and listening to his latest album, I’m left with the feeling that he consciously excludes certain aspects of his recorded works from his live shows and also excludes most aspects of his live shows from Shine On. Any successful performer will always leave the audience wanting more and hungering for the latest album. It’s obvious that Steve has made good use of decades of performing in front of audiences of any size and in any venue in order to create a legendary live show that fans will still be talking about weeks later. It’s that skill that keeps them coming back, but it’s the albums that keep things turning. Every time I listen to Shine On and I picture that Steve Poltz concert, I can’t wait to see him again. The album is always there to whet my appetite.
Shine On is a great Steve Poltz album. Like it’s cover full of smiling suns and it’s yellow vinyl, it exudes a brightness and a message of positivity while recognizing that bad things happen in this world. Like Steve’s live shows, it’ll make you listen, think and quickly sing along. It’ll make you feel sad and happy. Like Steve’s stage banter, it has its share of colourful characters doing colourful things. Bookended by the title track and “All Things Shine,” the album starts strong and finishes even stronger. The record is like a two-sided self-affirmation exercise. Bad things happened, but I’m here, and I’m going to be OK, and there’s still so much beauty in the world. Shine on. My favourite song on Shine On is “All Things Shine,” and I predict it will be the standout single from the album.
I highly recommend that you go see Steve Poltz live, after which I have no doubt that you too will become a fan. I highly recommend Shine On to every Steve Poltz fan. I can only hope that some of you will hang on to it longer than Abby.