Steve Forbert's 1978 debut album, "Alive on Arrival," was a stirring story of a Mississippi kid and his accoustic guitar arriving in New York City. The country-folk roots ran so deep and the confessional lyrics rang so true that the record promised great things for the young folk-rocker. So far, that promise has gone largely unfulfilled.
On his fourth and latest album, "Steve Forbert," the singer-songwriter is reunited with his first producer, Steve Burgh, and with his first band. The result is the best- sounding record of Forbert's career. Burgh is an excellent guitar-picker, while Robbie Kandor's rattling piano and propulsive organ lend an old-fashioned immediacy. Elvis Presley's singing Jordanaires, Burgh's mandolin and some sweet-pedal steel spice up a country rave-up, "You're Darn Right." Some punchy horn charts pump up silly folk-rock romps, though sticky string charts gum up the Side Two-closing "Schmaltzy Balance." Almost no trace of the former solo folkie is left.
No matter how good the record sounds, though, the songs just aren't as strong as Forbert's earlier work. Too many take up the exhausted theme of performers dealing with stardom. Others are built around clever one-liners (e.g. "He's gotta live up to his shoes.") and little else. "Listen To Me" and "Lost" do stand out as ballads that bravely and revealingly deal with relationships under pressure. The album's best song, though, is Jackie De Shannon's "When You Walk in the Room," a folk-rock classic made famous by the Searchers on record, and by Bruce Springsteen on stage. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM:"Steve Forbert"(Nemperor ARZ 37434). THE SHOW: Steve Forbert, Sunday at 8:30 at the Wax Museum.