Album Review: Delicate Steve – This Is Steve

Delicate Steve is not what you’d think of as a guitar virtuoso when you listen to his records, but that’s exactly what he is. The reason you don’t think of him as a guitar great is because his albums are too catchy sounding to be considered as “virtuoso playing”. It’s like listening to the best Petty songs or Dire Straits tracks. There’s an unforgettable melody that hits you immediately. Listen a little closer and you notice the brilliance in Steve’s playing. The layers of guitar noise, that intrinsic “singing” guitar line, and the undeniable fun that is happening in your ears.

Delicate Steve is very much a guitar virtuoso. He’s also one hell of a composer.

With his newest album, This Is Steve, he goes for short, effective shots of musical genius. Imagine a Jeff Lynne-produced George Harrison album full of instrumental nuggets of catchy pop beauty. That’s exactly what This Is Steve is. For under 30 minutes you’re taken on a rocketship ride to the moon and back. An animated musical adventure that’s like a anime version of Ry Cooder.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that Delicate Steve has an obvious guitar technique that is reminiscent of the late, great George Harrison. His slide playing is fluid, emotive, and plays like some ethereal voice, much like the late Harrison. Another thing is that Delicate Steve has that lighthearted nature that Harrison had as well, so when he goes from the playful opener “Animals” to something like the melancholy twang of “Winners” you feel it in your gut. “Winners” brings to mind Full Moon Fever-era Petty. It’s a song with no words, but you so want to sing along.  “Cartoon Rock” is like a cross between Jeff Beck and Joe Satriani with a sort of robo-rock vibe. This is the point in the rocketship ride where your animated face flails and quivers as the ship shoots into the atmosphere. It’s a creative blast of guitar fun. “Nightlife” sounds like a breezy island tune on some distant planet where androids go to get reprogrammed.

These songs are the perfect length. They feel like interludes introducing some new crazy, almost psychedelic scene. You can almost imagine some R. Crumb-animated film with these tracks as the soundtrack. Maybe not quite Crumb’s usual pervasive vision, but equally as odd and striking. “Help” grooves quite nicely, and the fact that Steve produced and plays everything on this album is all the more impressive.

Delicate Steve encapsulates his own musical vision on This Is Steve. It’s solely his sound and vision. “Swimming” sounds like a song turned inside out. It’s like hearing the inner workings of a song from the inside as it plays out to the world. “Driving” is a piano led track. It stands out as this stoic piece that builds and builds. For a 2 and a half minute song it feels like an epic statement. “This Is Steve” ends the album on a wobbly and beautifully soulful note, like some long lost piece of musical history.

Delicate Steve has been around for a few years now, but This Is Steve feels like the proper introduction we’ve been waiting for. You don’t get asked to work with and get praise from artists as diverse as Paul Simon, David Byrne, Dirty Projectors, Dr. Dog, Lee Ranaldo, and Built to Spill unless you’ve got something special to offer. This Is Steve proves that.

Hello Steve, it’s a pleasure to meet you.

8. 3 out of 10

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