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Little Steven Unleashed Soulfire

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Little Steven Unleashes Soulfire

Review By Mike Saunders

(Warning! if you read this you will have to buy the album!)

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Recorded and mixed between Halloween and Christmas last year, Little Steven's new album Soulfire is 57 minutes long and comprises 12 songs, eight of which are his own recordings of material that was written for other artists, including the Cocktail Slippers ("Saint Valentine's Day") and the Breakers ("Soulfire"). A further two songs ("I Saw The Light" and "The City Weeps Tonight") are Van Zandt compositions that have never appeared on record before, and the remaining two are cover versions of songs recorded by James Brown and Etta James. The musician credits include nine horn players (including original Disciples Ed Manion and Stan Harrison) and six female backing vocalists (including Cindy Mizelle from the 2006, 2009 and 2012/13 Springsteen tours), all of which adds up to one juicy prime cut of New Jersey rock and soul.

Soulfire features a big, widescreen production, a modern-day update of Phil Spector's wall of sound. It's an album that demands your attention while it takes you on a rollercoaster ride that switches genres from blues to doo-wop, funk, jazz and gritty urban soul. One minute you're on the mean streets of New York circa 1973, the next you're listening to an Ennio Morricone soundtrack, watching the Persuasions on a black and white TV in the dark, meeting a girl on the wrong side of town or drowning your sorrows in a late-night bar in Asbury Park at the end of a relationship, telling nobody in particular that they don't want to go home.

Intended to re-introduce Little Steven as a recording artist to the world at large, Soulfire is effectively a "Best Of" collection, a musical CV that spans his four-decade writing career, featuring a selection of his best (but not always his most well-known) compositions, from the comparatively obscure Gary US Bonds hit-that-never-was "Standing In The Line Of Fire," to his most famous song (and the first one that he ever wrote), "I Don't Want To Go Home." Among the musical highlights are the guitar solos in "Blues Is My Business," the jazz interlude in "Down And Out In New York City," the guitar intro to "I Saw The Light," the unlikely but somehow perfectly appropriate spaghetti western trumpet solo in "Standing In The Line Of Fire," the unexpected new ending to "Love On The Wrong Side Of Town," the superb contribution made by the Soulfire horn section and the passionate lead vocals and biting guitar work of Little Steven himself.

With appropriate acknowledgement to "Memphis Soul Stew" by King Curtis, the essential ingredients and basic recipe of Soulfire's magical musical gumbo are as follows:

1) Take one New York recording studio and fill it with recently-recruited, highly-talented musicians.

2) Choose first-rate original material and carefully-selected covers to ensure quality.

3) Incorporate loud electric guitars, thunderous drum fills and soulful female backing vocals.

4) Stir in as many horn players as you can fit in the room and hire Ed Manion to lead them.

5) Overdub passionate lead vocals that reference Bob Dylan and Keith Richards among others.

6) Apply traditional Van Zandt production values, natural arranging talent and attention to detail.

7) Add a little Disciples of Soul seasoning.

8) Infuse with irresistible hooks, insistent riffs and nagging rhythms.

9) Add more horns.

10) Add more guitars.

11) Add more everything.

12) Sprinkle on some Marc Ribler co-production effects.

13) Employ the Clearmountain and Ludwig mixing and mastering process.

14) Microwave on full volume for 57 minutes, then allow to be cool.

15) Voila! A strong contender for album of the year.

Soulfire is an intoxicating, exhilarating, inspirational and life-affirming triumph, a rocket-fuelled adrenaline rush, a heady brew, a melting pot of musical genres and an essential purchase. In a world of bland product, manufactured artists and fake news, it's the real thing. A shining beacon of quality, intensity and emotion in a sea of mediocrity. It has loud guitars, chick singers and a rock and roll horn section to die for. The songs are written by a master craftsman and played by a band on the top of their game. A deeply satisfying, sumptuous banquet of an album, Soulfire is good enough to eat. Serve hot, smother in Dr Van Zandt's Disciples of Soul sauce and consume immediately for maximum enjoyment and well-being. Delicious!

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