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A Set Sent From Jukebox Heaven – “Everywhere You’ve Been” from Steve Almaas

Steve Almaas
Everywhere You've Been
Lonesome Whippoorwill

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In the wake of those eruptive, frenetic, game-changing years 1976-1982 (give or take), the trajectories embarked upon by the artists and the narrative arcs they trace are surely as numerous and varied as the thousands upon thousands that made up the many bands in the many scenes around the punk-to-postpunk-to-synthwave world. Quite a few, one suspects, suffered a slipping fate, those for whom the further footing that needed finding went unfound, whose stories have me helplessly misquoting Dylan (“some are apparitions, in the shadow of the same old dives/can’t say how it all went haywire, or what’s become of their lives”). Still others drifted off completely, into the plaids and stripes of a workaday world, the elusively defined American dream supplanting the musical one even as they still pick up guitars or sit behind kits on the weekend, hoping believing they’re staying connected by the thread of the Once.

Then there are the Steve Almasses of that incendiary time. Those born in the mid-50’s that got their early wake-up call during the first stirrings of the true ‘rock revolution’ – the Beatles on Sullivan and the cascade that followed – that banged and basic-chorded their way through a string of adolescent bands and in so doing just happened to set themselves up for that time when the next wave of fearless art guerilla volunteers would be summoned to the new front lines via dispatches from faraway London and NYC. As his home base was Minneapolis, Almaas, riled and inspired, cast aside whatever qualms might confront a punk rock project popping up inside one of Heartland USA’s northernmost outposts – it can be imagined that such a prospect, in fact, as it did in teenage enclaves everywhere, only helped propel him and his ilk heedlessly forward – found himself a couple very capable bandmates in Chris Osgood and Dave Ahl and formed the Suicide Commandos, the band that literally broke the punk rock ice in the Twin Cities, allowing the likes of Hüsker Dü and the Replacements and etc etc to come rushing through the breach.

Now, as alluded to above, Almaas’s story like a thousand others could have ended there but obviously it didn’t or I wouldn’t be at my kitchen table on a Saturday morning in March spilling ink about the guy some forty plus years hence. No, when the bug bit Almaas back in the days when the Kinks and Animals and Stones roamed across the AM America airwaves, it bit deep and for good. After the Commandos folded tents and split – a short stint that yielded only one studio LP but, really, their work was, in a sense, done, their place in history forever set – Almaas upped sticks for New York with a new band, Crackers. While that outfit, too, was short-lived (a 1981-released 12″ their only recorded legacy; his next one, Beat Rodeo, would fare quite a bit better), the important piece of the story here is the phrase ‘New York City, 1979.’ A cauldron of numerous restless, innovative scenes all stirred together in the lofts and dives of both the city proper and across the river in New Jersey, there simply was no more fertile place to land in this country at that moment. A heady and sleepless, inimitable time in our culture, one absorbed what one could and carried it forward into a very varied musical career, or anyway that’s what Steve Almaas did. Having made fast and lasting friends with the like of Mitch Easter (who appears here), the dB’s and countless others, a sense of open-ended destiny was set and there was no looking back.

His sixth solo album since 1992’s East River Blues debut – not including two joint outings with Ali Smith in the early 2000’s – Everywhere You’ve Been, aside from the biographical tinge of its title, is something of a masterclass in assured, seasoned songwriting. Fleshed out by a deep bench of both band members and guests, the tracks virtually crackle with a genuine, lived-in warmth and suss.

I mean, we’d say Almaas and pals begin EYB on a high note – the loping, lovely, harmony-rich title track – but this thing just keeps going from strength to strength until you end up with a big cohesive jumble of Americana-flavored excellence in your lap. The dusky follow-up “Goodbye Nicolina,” the pair of vintage country rockers that follow that (“Someway, Somehow, Somewhere” the swingingest of the two while “1955” takes a kind of grease-a-billy spin with the twangy pierce of Kenny Vaughan’s guitar work bringing the sparks like a juiced-up slant-6), “Down By the Lake”‘s endearing ukelele romanticism, the blue-eyed, yearning soul turn of “Three Women,” complete with blinkered hope and a saxophone, the punchy heartfelt “Bred in the Bone” that suggests to these aged ears a matured Buddy Holly backed up by the Rumour (might be that organ) and oh so much more – a neat delicious dozen in all – presents as a set sent from  jukebox heaven that, if caught live in a dive somewhere, would constitute nothing less than bar band nirvana in excelsis.

While we’re not lacking in American singer/songwriters – there isn’t a week goes by when one or two albums of such don’t cross my desk, the form clearly in no danger of passing into history – it is nonetheless imperishably important that those of Almass’s caliber, with all that depth and experience borne in their bones, continue to flourish, if only because any opportunity to utter the phrase ‘the world’s a richer place because of’ should never be taken for granted. It’s a truth that we feel justifies expanding the list of those to whom it is reflexively said ‘Thank you for your service.’