Summer of Sorcery – the latest from Steven Van Zandt and his band, Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul – is a set of nostalgia-inducing, melody-infused, and mostly ebullient tunes.
The album opens with “Communion,” a jangly celebration brimming with sexual innuendoes and horn-filled passages reminiscent of proms and sock hops: “Somebody open up the door / baby I’m back to rock some more / if you’re a little on the shy side / don’t worry girl I’ve got the cure.” “Party Mambo” blends vintage sounds with Caribbean beats and flavor. “A World of Our Own,” with its shimmering sha-la-las and hummable hooks, harnesses the euphonic magic of such acts as the Crystals and the Ronettes.
“Soul Power Twist” strikes me as a tip of the hat to Sam Cooke and/or Otis Redding, the instrumental break a cathartic pastiche of buoyant sounds that evoke archetypal notions of summer — desire, abandon, endless possibilities. “Superfly Terraplane” launches with a riff and a few background yeahs that would be at home on a Tom Petty album, hurtling into territory that brings to mind an amped-up Willie Nile. “Suddenly You” has a croon-y feel, horns adding sultry atmosphere, a tune that elegizes the panacean powers of love.
“I Visit the Blues” is the least convincing track on the album, sounding like a cover of any number of blues-based tunes, though Van Zandt asserts an engaging guitar part and credible vocal.
“I want to be transformed / by your summer of sorcery,” Van Zandt sings on the closing title song, concluding the project with a final tribute to youth, freedom, and Eros. The album is a well-crafted and effective homage to an era when the fundamentals of pop were being adventurously honed and aggressively commercialized, when a crystalline melody was a thing of wonder (it still is).
Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul extend a reminder that respite and transport, however fleeting, are still of value, even or especially during an age of ineluctable nihilism.