Steven Blane - 'Taboo'

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

A few weeks back on the Independent Spotlight, I dug into the music of Steven Blane, a New York-based jazz crooner who’s keeping classic jazz pop alive with his eclectic, lovely songs. He’s got a killer voice and a superb band backing him, something that allows him to dynamically move throughout stylings in an effortless fashion. At times, his last record did meander, but at its heart, it was an exceptional jaunt through classic vibes. His new album is ‘Taboo.’ Let’s dig into it and see if it holds its own against Blane’s established repertoire.

“There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you,” Blane declares amidst a lyrical soundscape of his averageness. He doesn’t own fancy sneakers or a nice car; he drinks ten dollar wine, and doesn’t have many secrets or intricacies to himself. He is, however, loyal, and he’d do anything for you. That’s the most you can ask for in life, right? I love the way ‘For You’ opens the album. It’s one of the best vocal and lyrical performances I’ve heard from Blane, and he’s accented so well by the simple, upright bass instrumental backing. It’s absolutely exceptional.

‘Cold Blood’ continues Blane’s rather minimalist endeavor, backed only by a bass and piano here. Again, I think this is a superb way for Blane to highlight his talent and his presence. At times on his previous effort, the jazz instrumentation, while lovely, fell into some problems of sounding too formulaic, as if it’s the music they’re playing at Nordstroms during the holidays that’s easy to tune out. That isn’t a gib, it’s just the reality of poppy jazz standards in a contemporary setting. ‘For You’ and ‘Cold Blood’ are stunning exhibits of Blane’s modern relevance and ability to be breathtakingly good.

‘That’s All I Got to Say’ really takes a turn, perhaps even for the better, as Blane, still backed by that wonderfully brief instrumentation, gets dark, moody, and even drops a cuss word. There’s a true edge to this song, something that’s infectiously compelling. “Love me then beat me, chew me then eat me, that’s all I got to say,” Blane croons in this somewhat self-deprecating show of humanity. Goodness, is it chock-full of humanity. It drops that feel-good shroud that most jazz standards have for a deeply personal lyrical pursuit. In many ways, I’d argue ‘That’s All I Got to Say’ breaks down a barrier for Blane.

“When I look in the mirror, well, that guy’s just the wandering kind,” Blane observes on the equally personal ‘Cheap Whiskey.’ If anything, this track exhibits two things: the prowess of Blane’s backing band, in particular, that bassist, and his ability to add a remarkably unique inflection to his pieces. ‘Pretty Lies,’ the following track, continues the dark atmosphere of the album, but it does exhibit a more upbeat, pop atmosphere that’s somewhat absent elsewhere in the collection.

‘How Lucky Am I?’ seems to turn around the atmosphere of ‘Taboo.’ Songs like ‘For You,’ ‘Cheap Whiskey,’ and ‘That’s All I Got to Say’ aren’t the most positive of pieces, but they do portray Blane’s unwavering passion throughout. ‘How Lucky Am I?’ returns to the pastures that Blane established on ‘Kill Me Nice,’ the album I reviewed previously. In some ways, it makes the album feel a bit like a concept endeavor - He comes full circle and feels optimistic by the time you reach ‘Taboo.’

The album isn’t over, though, and ‘How Lucky Am I?’ is just past the middle point. The titular song continues our journey, one that seems to be revolving back to the sound I was familiar with from Blane. The strongest effort of the final pieces, however, is most definitely ‘I Go to Lourdes.’ This is a track that feels like one right off a Leonard Cohen record. Some of Blane’s recurring high points, ironically, are his low points. When he gruffly grumbles darkly in his lower register, he’s mesmerizing.

Finally, ‘Naked’ and ‘Crashing Out’ close the album. The former piece is a bit uneventful, in truth, and the album probably could have been bettered by its omission. ‘Crashing In,’ however is a wonderful finale with a great hook, some great lyricism, and a fantastic show of Blane’s personality. He closes the album out the way he entered, with a very simple composition.

This is by far a better album that ‘Kill Me Nice.’ I really dug that record, but this is far closer to the true masterpiece Steven Blane will eventually make. The creative decision to back himself so simplistically is indescribably important. It allows Blane to remain the focus of each song, pulling his lyrics out in a way I’ve never heard before. He’s a star with some killer music. Go listen to the album and pick it up on CD Baby.