Review: Steve Spurgin “Past Perfect”


Steve Spurgin: Past Perfect
Blue Night Records BNR-221
By Joe Ross, Contributing Writer

Guitarist, singer, songwriter Steve Spurgin states that his “Past Perfect” album is a testament to his rewarding, meaningful and valuable friendships in the music business. He acknowledges the “artistic genius” of picking pals Rob Ickes (resonator guitar), Uwe Kruger (guitar), Jens Kruger (banjo, guitar), Adam Steffey (mandolin), and Rusty Holloway (bass). He thanks album producer Steven Briggs, President of Blue Night Records that formed in 1999 to “just record what we think is good music.”  Spurgin and Briggs’ friendship goes back to the 1970s when both played in a country/bluegrass group called Wild Oats. It’s all part of Spurgin’s nostalgic and sentimental tapestry of thoughts that are so well captured on this recording.

As the album began, the bass was a little heavy in the overall mix, especially on the opening cut of “Fire on the Kettle,” but that can be easily adjusted. “Past Perfect” features ten Spurgin originals, along with John Malcolm Penn’s “Sasquatch” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song for a Winter’s Night.” Spurgin’s songwriting is an extension of his feelings, emotions and experiences. Spurgin’s stable, mature vocal presence emphasizes low-key appeal and earthiness. His approach lends immediacy to his stories and messages.

The occasional harmonies are also sung by the songwriter, who spent three years in Nashville as a writer for Gene Watson and Reba McEntire.  After winning the 1994 “New Folk” award at the Kerrville Folk Festival, Spurgin began his solo singer/songwriter career.  In 1996, he released his “Distant Faces” album, and his 2002 “Tumbleweed Town” was similarly well received. Besides his Nashville connection, Spurgin also has experience with such groups and artists as Sundance, The Limeliters, Freddy Fender, Mason Williams, Steve Gillette, Bluegrass Etc. and California. Mason Williams provided some liner notes for this album and says that “Steve’s songs take us to other places and times, as if we were right there.” For three years running (1992-4), California won IBMA’s “Instrumental Group of the Year” award, but that band broke up in 1996. Most recently, he fronted the contemporary bluegrass group Sawmill Road (2004-2010).    

 Spurgin clearly uses his craft to communicate ideas and feelings. Songs like “This Might Be the Year,” “Run Away Home,” and “Gettin’ Outta’ Here Alive” are full of creative expression. His songs allow others to see and hear real characters and feel the situation. “Kodak 1955” captures his own familiar awareness, without getting too personal or specific. Thus, he gives a near “past perfect” mix of detail and ambiguity so we as listeners can fill in some blanks with our own experiences and relate to the song.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to also view Spurgin’s collage of black & white photos in the CD jacket, but if only they would have included his lyrics, because of the magnitude of original material.  Because of Steve’s original Texas roots,  “The Last Armadillo Waltz,” was born as an intelligent and humorous take on the need for environmental protection. The current Nevada resident also sings the striking “The Lights of Reno.” As a masterful songcrafter, Spurgin knows just what it takes to get listeners to care.

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