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Steve Moakler

Steel Town – 2017 (Soundly)

Reviewed by Michael Rampa

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CDs by Steve Moakler

While the majority of Pittsburgh's steel mills have long been shut down or since vanished, the "Steel City" still retains its nickname and prides itself on the work ethic, community spirit and sports culture that was synonymous with its industrial heyday. Native son Steve Moakler pays homage to it all on "Steel Town." It is laden with hometown authenticity. He opens the title track with a brief live recording where he introduces himself to a small live crowd in a heavy Pittsburgh accent. There is a later reference to the locally iconic Iron City Light beer on "Siddle's Saloon," a tale about the bar his grandfather built in the basement that remained a place of solace during the city's economic and cultural shift as the steel industry began its decline.

Half the songs are about looking back and were previewed on his 2016 EP while the others are about being in the moment. Perhaps not coincidentally, the production on the retrospective songs is sparser while the current themes have a little radio-ready polish. The twangy pedal steel on "Wheels" is in direct contrast to the beach vibe of "Summer Without Her," which Kenny Chesney expressed interest in cutting, but ultimately passed on.

The lead single, "Suitcase" is about how having love in your life trumps the materialistic American dream. Penned by Thomas Rhett and Luke Laird, it is the only song Moakler did not write. (he has penned songs for others, including "Riser" for Dierks Bentley). The majority of the album leans to the contemporary side. Moakler moved to Nashville in the early 2000s and while the album may be a Rust Belt homecoming for him, it is by no means myopic. Thematically and sonically, it will certainly resonate anywhere.