September 2000

Steve Young - Primal Young
Appleseed Recordings APR CD 1033
Released: 2000

by David J. Cantor

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

[Reviewed on CD]Over the last several months, I’ve often had "Jig," the six-minute opening tune of Primal Young, stuck in my head -- especially its refrain, which answers the minor chord that opens the song with its relative major chord. It’s a simple, but effective move that lightens you up as if a weight were just lifted from your shoulders. "Jig" sets the tone for Primal Young -- its evocative lyrics stand in stark contrast to the clichéd, heavily promoted pop music, television shows, and superficial discussions from public radio and newspapers that clutter our modern minds and crush our spirits.

"Jig" is about the ways that music affects all people, even to the point of informing behavior. The singer sees this, not just in himself, but in his ancestors and throughout his mountain home. "There’s a jig in my mind, I hear it all the time/ … /It comes from the mountains, across the mists of time/… /And it came to my life on an old ancient stream,/Part of the ancestors’ dream/And I heard it in the womb and I hear it in this room/I hear it in all-a you."

"Sometimes I Dream," takes your heart in its hand, plays with it a little, and then rips it out of your chest. "Sometimes I drink too much, and sometimes I lie/And sometimes I hate myself and I wish I could scream/Sometimes I give up on love, but sometimes I dream./ … /There’s a curse on my heart, hey, I’ll never love again,/Forever a lonely man, but sometimes I dream."

Then there’s the final track, "Little Birdie." Like "Jig," it’s a hymn to the primal life force in us all -- the unifying concept for this collection. "Little birdie, little birdie, what makes you fly so high?/It’s because I am a true, true little bird/And I do not fear to die./And if the grace is comin’, hey, I say just let it come/It won’t need no two-bit preachers a-beatin’ on their drum."

The songs on Primal Young are mostly played in a quiet style based on guitar arpeggios, but some of them build until they are really in your face. At times, I thought Young pushed the emotion too hard, but in most cases he showed himself to be a master of subtlety -- somehow squeezing extra ounces of resonance out of both melody and lyrics.

Several instruments back up Young on most of the songs. Sometimes this adds to their sense of peacefulness, at others it verges on noise. "Sometimes I Dream" is solo Young, slowly picking the main guitar line, and, in places, overdubbing one or more additional guitars. At first I found Young’s rendition of the much-recorded traditional ballad "East Virginia" a bit frantic. Since it involves unfulfilled longing, a case could be made for the way Young sings it, but it still jarred me. The integrity of the performances throughout the CD, however, forced me to reconsider my initial reaction. As a whole, the CD encourages close attention -- in listening all these months, I’ve repeatedly found myself noticing fine moments I had previously missed and come to appreciate songs I didn’t like at first.