Sonoma-Sonic Records (label)
25 March 2022 (released)
30 June 2022
The muse of music takes many twists and turns. It runs wild then stops on a dime. The style you end up in may be miles away from your training as a youth. It's this high and crash cycle that can drives artists mad but also conjures the world's great works. A certain mania is always present in the creative process. Some of these cycles last weeks or months. Some last decades.
Santa Rosa singer-songwriter Stevie Cornell is back from a 20-year hiatus with his latest self-titled record. Cornell got his start in the '70s playing with East Bay punk outfit the Young Adults. From there, his journey led to playing in Americana, folk, and country bands in the '80s and '90s. Now reincorporating the various styles of his musical upbringings, Cornell is back with an eclectic mix of tunes that find hope and redemption through strife and altered paths. Ubiquitous throughout is a twangy sway informed by his time as a pedal steel player for retro country act Red Meat. Cornell takes the reins, performing everything himself with the complementary groove of a group of seasoned session players.
'If Crying is a Crime' has all the shimmering pedal steel and melancholic swing of a great honky tonk blues. Tickled ivories and hearty Fender give lush atmosphere to this would-be country standard. Cornell's vocals are free of schlocky honk, more akin to those of '50s crooners. 'I Couldn't Reach You' ambles along with a sauntering fingerpicked accompaniment. Cornell pines over a missed connection with a matter-of-fact simplicity. Tremolo steel duets with a nimble banjo over a lightly bouncing rhythm section.
'I'm in a Dream' has that kind of jaunty unbridled optimism that is scant in ultra-cynical 2022. The track is a refreshing flashback to the singers before colour television. The pedal steel acts like a string quartet giving the song a magical aura. 'Black Hole in My Heart' is a blues for the downhearted enriched by cascading piano and flourishing guitar. The chiming '60s jangle of The Byrds comes through strong on 'Whispering Wind'. Cornell adds those warm harmonies that made the songs of that era in Laurel Canyon so transcendent. The penultimate track 'Over Too Soon' has definite hints of Dylan circa 1970 between Nashville Skyline and New Morning. A country-fried waltz with a played-up southern gentlemanly affectation.
Cornell's latest record is first and foremost a testament to his great pedal steel playing which is not merely a sonic filler as it can be on many country records but a voice with a personality. The songs ride this interesting wave between jazz and country. A hybrid that is voiced by Cornell's warm, inviting vocal stylings.