For three years, the prevailing theme of my Best I’ve Ever Seen column has been musicians talking about the best concerts they attended by other artists. To mix it up a bit, I decided to broaden the theme and from time to time allow readers to learn which albums by other artists are musicians’ favorites and the reasons why they love those albums.
What better way to start than to bring back Steve Forbert! Forbert, one of America’s best but too often unheralded songwriters, was the featured artist in one of my earliest Best I’ve Ever Seen columns. Throughout his career, he has shown deep respect for other artists’ work and has done stellar covers of songs by Jimmie Rodgers, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, and others.
So, Steve, step up to the plate and hit a home run for our readers by naming the three albums you consider the best ones you have ever heard.
“Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band must be mentioned,” he says, citing the Beatles’ 1967 masterpiece. “What other 50-year-old album has recently had a PBS special about its creation and a super-deluxe box set released? Sure, I know many people say they like the White Album better or Revolver, but there is a magical and cohesive quality to Sgt. Pepper that really can't be denied.”
Forbert, who has released 17 studio albums, including 2016’s Flying at Night, also marvels at Van Morrison’s wondrous 1968 album Astral Weeks.
“Van Morrison's Astral Weeks is a one-of-a-kind work of art in rock music,” he says. “Perhaps the most poetic and romantic album of the rock era, it has been a huge inspiration to many singer/songwriters, including myself. The track ‘Madame George’ is a vivid, visual, lyrical masterpiece — an Irish essential.”
Santana’s 1970 album, Abraxas, rounds out Forbert’s three best albums.
“Abraxas is pretty special,” he explains. “The opening track, ‘Singing Winds, Crying Beasts,’ is like an orchestrated rendition of a tropical tempest! Then the real brilliance gets rolling with ‘Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen,’ ‘Oye Como Va,’ ‘Incident at Neshabur,’ ‘Se A Cabo,’ and ‘Samba Pa Ti.’ These tracks are so well arranged and performed that any band covering one of the tunes should play it note for note like the record — as if it were a piece of classical music.”
I ask Forbert which albums by other artists most influenced his music.
“There are too many such albums to mention.” he responds. “I will always find Elvis Presley's The Sun Sessions inspiring. This is the King of Rock ’n' Roll captured in his freshest, most creative, beginning moments.
“David Bowie's Hunky Dory came out of nowhere and was a quite a surprise,” Forbert adds. “He remains the most talented recording artist since the 1960s triumvirate of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan — and this was his calling card. How does a record influence someone? I guess I’d just say you get real close to something, and it sticks to you — like wet paint!”
On repeated listens, Forbert’s 11-song Flying at Night — a collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Anthony Crawford, who played on Forbert’s 1992 album The American in Me — also exhibits sticking power. Nine of the songs were unfinished ones from years ago that Forbert had to complete. The album was released only in the United Kingdom prior to a tour there but is available at steveforbert.com.
“Almost all of the recordings on Flying at Night were done back in 2006 to meet a publishing company demand that turned out to not be a real concern,” Forbert explains. “I had nothing but fun recording with my friend Anthony Crawford in his Nashville home studio. The songs range through several decades, some from as far back as my Mississippi days in the early ’70s.
“‘An Hour or So’ was written while on tour with Edie Brickell in 1988, and ‘Never Trust a Man Who Doesn't Drink’ is from around 1992, written after extensive touring, including several weeks in Europe. The instrumental ‘Surf's Out’ is from a few years ago — somewhat inspired by Fleetwood Mac's super-relaxing ‘Albatross.’”
A similar album is upcoming.
“It is being created specifically to go along with Big City Cat, a memoir I have just finished,” Forbert says. “The executive producer for the album is Joe Poletto, who came up with the concept and is releasing a collection entitled The Magic Tree on the Blue Rose Music label. Once again, the songs range through several decades.
“Producer Karl Derfler is working with vocal and guitar performances by me and adding some excellent, simple instrumentation. Most of these songs have never been released. The sources include a performance from the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1989 and a couple of studio demos done in Meridian, Mississippi, in 1987. Releasing this record alongside the book offers a perfect reason to collect and present these various and sundry songs. The Magic Tree will be an Americana album all the way.”
Last October, an excellent Forbert tribute album, An American Troubadour: The Songs of Steve Forbert, was released on Blue Rose Music. Numerous artists performed on the 21-track album, including John Oates with Bekka Bramlett, John Popper, Jim Lauderdale, Robert Earl Keen, Eric Lindell, and Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers.
“It is a terrific surprise,” says Forbert, a member of the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame, “to have such a wide-ranging group of artists — most considerably younger than me —record renditions of my songs.”