Stevie Van Zandt (aka Little Steven), consigliere to Tony Soprano in arguably the greatest TV show in history, consigliere to Bruce Springsteen in arguably the greatest rock n’ roll band ever. DJ, record, label owner, producer, arranger, champion of young up and coming bands. He’s forgotten more about music than you or I will ever know, and now he’s back on solo duty for the first time in two decades. Proving that just when he thought he was out…they pull him back in…sorry, an old ‘Sopranos’ joke.
‘Soulfire’ features 12 tracks, mostly tracks that Van Zandt has either written or produced for other performers down through the years. Two great examples being ‘Ride The Night Away’ (originally written for Jimmy Barnes for his masterpiece ‘For The Working Class Man’), and ‘Love On The Wrong Side Of Town’ (co-written with Springsteen back in the 70’s for Southside Johnny). A few years back, Van Zandt finally got together with Barnes and recorded a barnstorming (sorry, not sorry) version of ‘Ride The Night Away’, the song that should have broke Barnes in the States. The version that Little Steven performs on ‘Soulfire’ is sassier than either. The horns are more prominent, and his inimitable vocals breathe new life into one of my all-time favourite Barnsey tracks. ‘Love On The Wrong Side Of Town’ is pure Jersey shore magic… a massive string and horn arrangement behind a Phil Spector-esque wall of sound.
One of the most pleasing aspects about the return of Little Steven is that he gets the chance to flex his guitar-playing muscles. Go to a Springsteen gig and you will witness some of the finest guitar fireworks ever. Springsteen, Van Zandt, and Nils Lofgren… all taking turns to shine, but with ‘Soulfire’, Van Zandt really lets loose. The solos on ‘I’m Coming Back’, and the entire length of ‘Blues Is My Business’, feature the sound of a performer re-energised and reinvigorated. The latter is an incredible few minutes that swing, and Van Zandt puts many a shredder to shame with his scorching playing. Another highlight is hearing an updated version of ‘Standing In The Line Of Fire’ which originally featured on the album of the same title, released in the early 80’s by Gary US Bonds. The 80’s sheen of the original has been glossed over for a version that zips along and features some gorgeous female backing vocals.
The release of ‘Soulfire’ has been one of the genuinely pleasant surprises of 2017 so far. I honestly never expected another Little Steven album. The man himself sums it up best in the sleeve notes: “Being reintroduced to the artist known as Little Steven. Does he still have something to offer this cold, cruel, confusing world? Let’s all find out together, shall we?“… I’m happy to report that he does indeed still have something to offer. Let’s hope that the handful of live dates announced for this summer turn into a full blown tour.
Available May 19th on Wicked Cool/Big Machine/UMe. More information on the official Facebook page.
Review: Dave Stott