And here I thought Steve Moakler was just some new guy trying to make it in mainstream country music. I barely paid attention when he released his singles “Suitcase” and “Love Drunk” because well…it didn’t like they were going to do anything anyway, and it’s not like there’s a shortage of new music to listen to at any given point in time.
It turns out that it goes a little deeper than that, because in reality, Steve is known more as a songwriter residing on the edges of stardom rather than well…stardom. He’s written some songs here and there, the most notable being Dierks Bentley’s “Riser”. As such, when I heard some good things circulating around his new album, Steel Town I thought, “eh, what the hell, I’ll check it out”.
I won’t gloss over the facts. Steel Town is very much a modern, mainstream country album. However, it’s the type of modern mainstream record I can get behind. The writing is definitely a bit smarter, the hooks are more clever, and the melodies are especially more pleasing. I won’t quite say it’s a great record, but you know, considering how much shit mainstream country gets, this feels like an album that belongs more on the good side of it.
To start, I will say that Steve is a very charmismatic singer, able to convey a ton of fun upbeat energy when needed like on “Siddle’s Saloon”, or contribute to a more relaxed, carefree vibe like on “Suitcase”. Additionally, he’s also able to convey some heartfelt sincereity on tracks like “Summer Without Her” and especially “Wheels”. That can go a long way too, since at least he sounds invested in the material rather than simply singing to appease a label or anything (he might, I don’t know, it just doesn’t sound like it).
Of course, being that Steve is a songwriter, we of course have to talk about the lyrics and themes, and honestly this is where I’m struggling to call this a great record. It’s not that any of these tracks are outright bad, it’s just that some tracks feel way beneath Steve’s talents. “Love Drunk” is catchy enough I suppose, but the hook of it just screams “play me, radio!” rather than anything else. Of course, if you want to talk about clumsy ideas we’ve got “School” as well which revolves around the idea of love and not knowing what to do, since after all, they don’t teach you things like that in school. It’s just an odd turn of phrase for me.
On the other hand you do get tracks that show the man who penned “Riser”. The title track is an homage to Steve’s hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and while I do feel the song is a little broadly skecthed, it’s coming from someplace honest and real, and I can respect that. Besides that, he throws a lot of himself into the record anyway. “Siddle’s Saloon” is a clear standout on the record, telling the story of Steve’s grandfather’s bar that he owned that fostered a community of people who knew each other and celebrated life together. That sounds weird I know, but really, the best comparison is Cheers. It’s also the most upbeat and fun tune on the record (and yes that fiddle does get me all giddy ). The real standout is “Wheels” though, backed by a driving rhythym that uses wheels to describe life itself and how time doesn’t slow down. Moreover, the older we get, the faster those wheels go, and while we wish that as kids, we hate it as adults. It speaks to where I am with my life right now. It’s a damn great song. There’s others as well – “Gold” and “Suitcase” both speak of appreciating the little things in life, and “Summer Without Her” is another good, alebit done to death, “girl of the summer” song.
Other than that, I will say that the record sort of loses its steam by the end, as songs like “Hearts Don’t Break That Way”, “School”, and “Just Long Enough” all sort of blend together sonically, but as a whole, this is a fine project. Again, outside of “Wheels”, it’s not really going to blow you away, but it is a fairly enjoyable album that makes a guy like Steve easy to root for. If anything, it caught me by surprise, and I’m glad for that.
(6.5 – 7 /10)