Blues musician and festival staple Seasick Steve has recently released his seventh album Sonic Soul Surfer just in time for festival season. Over recent years, Steve has become a well-known and popular musician, quietly establishing himself on top of the festival circuit. For that reason, it hardly seems believable that it’s been less than 10 years since Steve Wold first appeared in our lives with his 2006 performance on Jools Holland’s annual Hootenanny TV show.
Seven albums in, there’s a real danger of music becoming stale. If you’ve ever heard a Seasick Steve record before, you’ll know exactly what to expect. Steve hasn’t altered his formula at all for Sonic Soul Surfer but, like the rest, it’s charmingly rough and ready music that you can’t help but like. In fact, the gruff energy of the music makes this album rank among Steve’s best work yet.
Sonic Soul Surfer
The album encompasses all aspects of North American roots music, from the fast-paced Mississippi trance music of Sonic Soul Boogie, to the ballad In Peaceful Dreams, to Swamp Dog’s classic laid-back blues. Steve sticks to his usual subject matter, drawing on his wealth of experience to sing about his early life and work, as well as celebrating wanderlust and exploring the responsibilities of old age. He plays the blues with grit and honesty, while also maintaining a fine line in slower ballads.
Regular drummer Dan Magnusson features on some of the tracks, alongside other artists including Luther Dickinson of the Mississippi All Stars. The guests complement the album rather than being the focal point of it, successfully avoiding turning it into a guest star showcase.
Opening track Roy’s Gang is Steve at his best. It’s long (over six minutes), and isn’t exactly complicated lyrically – “I’m gonna get on that stage, gonna play you my very best show” – but the riffs make the whole song work.
A stand-out feel-good track is Barracuda ’68, which is bursting with catchy riffs and good vibes. Sonic Soul Boogie, the (almost) title track, is also a particularly notable song. Filled with expertly building energy, it explains in microcosm how Steve has managed to keep on using the same songwriting recipe over and over again. It all comes down to the irresistible power of those guitars and blues rhythms that always manage to keep your foot tapping along.
As with everything Steve puts his name to, these songs are made to be played live. Admittedly some of the tracks, like Dog Gonna Play and Swamp Dog, do need a live environment to really come into their own, but others are already creating a storm of energy from the album version alone.
Some of the ballads and slower songs fade a little in comparison with the other tracks on the album, though not enough to really drag. Having said that, Right On Time is a great track with a lovely melody, which makes up for some of the paler songs.
Seasick Steve has a winning formula for success – and Sonic Soul Surfer has proved so for a seventh time.
Sonic Soul Surfer is out now. What do you think of Seasick Steve’s latest album? Let us know in the comments below!