Steve Forbert remains the great American troubadour, crisscrossing the country, guitar slung over his back and harmonica rack over his shoulders, celebrating the colorful diversity of life along America’s highways and byways. The swaggering title track of Forbert’s new album, Moving Through America, mimics the road tripping of its main character across the Midwest. The opening sonic measures recall Jackie DeShannon’s “Moving,” and propulsive guitar rhythms evoke the wide-eyed weariness of the road warrior who’s both jaded and amazed by the little things he sees on his trip.
The album opens with the luminous “Buffalo Nickel,” a lament clothed in nostalgia that’s rendered more poignant by the spareness of the song. Forbert’s raspy vocals ride over his caressing fingerpicking as he thinks about a buffalo nickel — with a picture of a buffalo on one side and an “Indian brave” on the other — and reflects: “It seems so ironic to me / we had to go and slaughter every buffalo herd and couldn’t leave the Indian be.” In Forbert’s song, the buffalo nickel becomes an image of the way a country destroys what it enshrines. The comic “Fried Oysters,” laid down over a bed of Gulf Morlix’s shimmering guitar and George Naha’s sparkling lead run, tells the tale of a man who “won’t eat fried oysters” without his “oyster girl.”
The Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers-esque “Say Hello to Gainesville” is a tribute to Petty’s Florida hometown, where he’s the “juice growing on the sunshine tree.” The slow, sliding reggae blues “What’s a Dog Think” ponders what a dog thinks we’re doing when we’re driving a car, or when the thunder claps and we sit as if nothing is happening when the dog is scared to death.
Forbert’s genius lies in his artful way of telling funny and memorable stories about the hopes and dreams of ordinary folks across America. In that way, he continues to follow in the footsteps of his folk music hero and fellow Meridian, Mississippi, native Jimmie Rodgers.
Moving Through America is out May 13 on Blue Rose Music.