Reviewed by Henry L. Carrigan Jr.
After an eight-year hiatus, master guitarist, consummate singer and songwriter Steve Wariner releases his first non-instrumental album. In 2009, Wariner paid tribute to his mentor, Chet Atkins, with the hot-picking instrumental album "Steve Wariner, c.g.p., My Tribute to Chet Atkins," and he followed it two years later with another album of instrumentals, "Guitar Laboratory." On this new album, the four-time Grammy winner comes out with guitars blazing and baritone booming, taking us on a musical journey down roads that twist and turn through the woods of disappointment, misplaced hope, love, defeat, nostalgia and cultural responsibility.
Wariner's screaming rock guitar kicks off the album on the title track, fueling the anger the singer feels about the collapse of the economy even as he retreats to the refrain that "it ain't all so bad, as long as I got you." The funky blues and Johnny Winter-like guitar of Voodoo recreate the singer's fatal attraction to a mystery woman and the urgency of his "I-can't-quit-you-though-I-know-it's-gonna-kill-me" desire for her. In the dreamy country ballad Arrows at Airplanes steel guitars weave under and around Wariner's and co-writer Rockie Lynne and Mike Severs' lyrics about a wistful guy who spend his days "on the banks of a river, shooting arrows at airplanes and throwing pillows at freight trains." Although he's been playing the western swing ballad Bluebonnet Memories live for years, this is the first time he's recorded it on an album. Biting rock guitars, jazz piano and an R&B chorus play off each other in It's Called a Brand New Day, a defiant statement of the singer's fierce optimism in the face of death and depression. Spokes in a Wheel, a formulaic song with forced rhymes and superficial lyrics - "there's a zillion folks filling up this planet/we can no longer take her for granted...we can make this world work for the better/we're all connected/we're all affected" - is the album's one disappointment.
Wending his way through many musical styles - and mastering all of them - Wariner hands us a musical gift whose many facets shine and sparkle with the depth of his lyrical tenderness, his stratospheric picking and singing.