Folk singer-songwriter, Ian Steinberg, is ready to be the guiding hand of Burlington’s music scene! Coming in June, his newest album, Guidance, features fourteen short and sweet tracks that provide a peek into the singer’s mind.
The first track, “Bad Luck,” features clean vocals and snappy rhythms sure to make you want to sing along. The acoustic guitar lines are upbeat and mix well with the tones of the vocals. When listening, you won’t find your “luck runnin’ out again,” because this track is simply fun.
“Here Nor There” features similar vocal themes with pleasant tones and conversational lyrics: “Why, why? Can’t I ever be here, nor there, nor anywhere? But in my skull, in my thoughts, in my curdled sense of self perception…” It feels as if Ian is singing directly to you, asking for participation in the discourse running through his head.
[All images courtesy of Ian Steinberg]
“Honey Won’t You Come Back Home” has the bones of a classic love song with Ian’s inventive lyrics: “Every day is colder without you here with me. I don’t know how long it’s been, but I been cooking for two and the meals are going bad in the fridge.” With a pervasive sense of self-awareness, the lyrics lament a lost love, earnestly begging for another chance. For such a sad premise, the instrumentals and percussion are upbeat and hopeful, perfect for a summer sing-along. The bassline of this track is one of my favorites, making me wish it was higher in the mix throughout much of the rest of the album.
The twinkling guitar tones at the beginning of “Pieces Pieces” make up one my favorite instrumental lines of Guidance. Breaking up the flow of the album, this track serves to build intensity in a differing tone, introducing new musical themes without lyrics. This effectively deepens the scope of the tracks that follow by cleansing the palate, but also piquing my curiosity for the next song.
“Buried With My Love” also begins intensely with staccato percussion and a strong bass guitar presence. These elements work together to create a slightly darker tone than the previous tracks, taking a cue from the transition present in “Pieces Pieces.” The delivery of the lyrics mirrors the instrumentals so fluidly that the song sounds like liquid velvet, accentuating the lyrics and their meaning: “Buried with my love, after all these years….” The simplicity of this track is unbeatable in today’s world of overbearing love songs, allowing its meaning to come across unencumbered.
One of the longer songs of the album, “And Now” brings us back to the more upbeat tones of the first part of Guidance. Again, the lyrics are succinct in the best way with superb phrasing to match. Everything is very even in the mix, all supporting the vocals, which are easy to understand in both audio and content. I appreciate the bassline, which is a bit more complicated, but far from overbearing. The instrumentals blend well, particularly towards the end of the track.
“How Can Our Fathers” features descriptions of Ian’s life, particularly the challenges of his past: “So I’ll see ya later, Western Mass!” The percussion stands out in this track as harder-hitting in a way that remind me of marching band snares. The guitar part takes the backseat, allowing Ian’s emotional vocals to take the spotlight as he asks, “How can my father?”
“Stuck Inside the Water Basin” allows the guitar to have its moment to shine! This track gives me a sense of walking through the forest, searching for something meaningful ad lost. Perfect to show the true art of a talented acoustic guitar player, “Stuck Inside the Water Basin” is another well placed palate cleanser.
“Poppy’s Last Message” is truly striking. This track needs no explanation or accompaniment: it firmly stands its own ground alone, and it isn’t my place to expand on it in text. All I’ll say is that it fits into the album in the most heartbreaking, best-suited way possible. This track is beyond what most artists consider sharing with their fans, and I can only imagine the courage it took to include it.
The title track, “Guidance,” doesn’t disappoint, serving to unclog a heavy throat after the previous track. It includes many similar musical themes to the rest of the album, but also feels very rounded out on its own. The guitar parts are masterful and serve to support the vocals, as always in Ian’s work, with the rest of the instrumentals content to put their time in, too.
“Guidance” reads in an impressively poetic way, only adding to its power:
“Pleading for guidance
Point me towards your northern star
Hoping for an answer
A ways to go though I’ve come so far….”
The playfulness in the guitar riff at the beginning of “One Foot One Knee” serves as the perfect contrast to the chorus of vocals that begin to blend in, giving the track a full-bodied church choir feel. The juxtaposition of full and empty sections within the song keep me interested until the very end, the epitome of masterful metaphorical page turns.
The spoken word form of “Fatima” is surprising, but works. This piece would do well at a poetry reading! The language is very rich, incorporating imagery and emotion to create a sense of what love means to the artist: “…the language that everyone on earth was capable of understanding in their heart. It was love. Something older than humanity, more ancient than the desert. Something that exerted the same force whenever two pairs of eyes met….”
“At the risk of Coming Off as Trite” brings the album back to its joyful instrumental themes combined with somewhat sad, yet self-aware lyrics. This piece works well as an exploration of growing up in a way that is unplanned and just a bit lonely, feelings many of us don’t realize we are bound to experience while getting older. In stunningly simple lyrics, Ian realizes “that things have passed, things have passed.”
The fourteenth and final track of Guidance is “Sunshine.” It wraps up the album with hope, honesty, and a personal touch that gives us one last look into Ian’s life. This time, it’s a plan for the future: “Lifetime, I will not spend my life, I will not waste my time so unhappily.” Although the track is short, it ends the album on a sweet note: “I give my thanks.”
If you’re a fan of Copeland, From Indian Lakes, and Ed Sheeran, Ian Steinberg is a great artist to add to your must-listen playlist!
To see Ian live, look for him performing around Burlington with his band: Dahne Duffy on lead guitar, Bear Borges on drums, and Lucas Tabshey on bass. Stay tuned for his latest gigs by connecting with him:
***Like all of my reviews, a submission fee was charged for this post***