Sure, they make our lives a bit easier in some regards but it’s just as easy to argue that the technologies of today do just as much to bog us down and wear us thin. From texting to Twitter, from Facebook and more, the devices and applications once set out and sold with the promise of simplifying our lives oftentimes do just the opposite. And, every now and then, we find ourselves longing for simpler times, times where neighbors actually knew one another and people looked out for each other.
Singer/songwriter, Steve Roberson, is just a person and his latest recording, What Used to Be, echoes that sentiment with plenty of homespun wit and country charm.
Texas native Roberson has been singing country music since his teenage days and, while singing “became more of a hobby than a profession,” as he moved into the real estate business instead, the artist has managed to churn out a number of albums, of which this is the fourth, continuing to collaborate with “songwriter, producer, and former Atlantic Records artist, Karen Tobin.” And while he’s not attending to his loving family, consisting of his beautiful wife, two sons, and three grandchildren, he can be found crafting simple melodies and warm tunes, the proceeds of which all go to benefit the Easter Seals organization.
All in all, it’s tough to read a bio like that and not like the guy.
But Roberson is more than just a quaint, heartwarming story. What Used to Be is an album of stories and tales that echo the heartbeat of real life and a longing within. It’s not over the top, in your face sensationalism but rather allows truth to prevail over the seeming darkness of life that threatens to take over at times, opting for simplicity and kindness over choices and thoughts that might lead to regret.
To harness that feeling, Roberson relies on an able cast of musicians to create his distinct yet humble sound. With Tobin at the producer’s helm and contributing background vocals, Roberson boasts a virtual family of performers in his band from the acoustic guitar work of Paul Marshall, Edward Tree, and Vern Monnett, who also assists on electric, Jack Lee and Bobby Crew on the piano and B3 organ, and Marshall on bass. Shawn Nourse pounds a steady beat on drums while Scarlett Rivera helms the fiddle, Monnett and John McDuffie tackle the pedal steel and dobro, and Matt Cartsonis delivers on banjo and mandolin. The result of this collective is a sound that is honest, proud, and birthed in the heartland of Texas. It’s rich and rewarding and proves to be the perfect foil to where this artist really shines and that’s in his storytelling songwriting.
Offering up his slightly nasal twang, Roberson showcases time after time a simple approach to his songwriting that relies on sincerity over a bombastic splash. On “Back to Mayberry,” he appeals to the simpler times, acknowledging the illusion of television while tying it into its real life memories, longing for the days of Sheriff Taylor and his son, Opie, while “The Old Me” showcases a learned wisdom in the realm of love and relationships, buoyed by a steady rhythm and nice steel guitar.
“Home Cookin’” is a fun, tongue-in-cheek interaction between a married couple whose husband has the occasional wandering eye that is reminded that he’s “got a good thing going” and “better bring his appetite back home.” Cutting right to the heart of what it means to return home, seeing things through different yet familiar eyes, “What Used to Be” is a poignant tale while “Four Year Old Cowboy” oozes pride and joy at watching the imagination of youth, fueled by a perfectly fitted galloping beat.
Roberson takes things south of the border with “In the Time I’ve Got Left” as he determines to make the most of life and love, focusing on what truly matters while a flamenco guitar and peppy percussion support him, leading into the banjo filled tale of young love, “Madi Maybe.” ”If Heartaches Were Horses” is subtle and succinct and does sort of slip through the cracks but more banjo accented alongside some mandolin notes and a playful, flirty duet color, “You Suit Me Well,” a true standout that recalls the great duets of artists like Johnny and June Carter Cash.
The artist borrows from the motion picture, “Jerry Maguire,” on “She Completes Me,” telling the story of love that’s held true, moved forward by an arrangement that’s simple and true while “You Meant to Say What?” is a fun, rollicking barroom two-step that recalls tracks like Collin Raye’s “That’s My Story.” It’s fun, frivolous, and fits perfectly well. Roberson closes up shop with the quiet tones of “If You Can,” a classic country feeling ballad that deals with a couple on the brink of breaking up.
Steve Roberson’s What Used to Be is a disarming album, simple in its approach and quite effective in its effect. While it may take a few listens, it’s well worth the time as Roberson conjures up songwriting that’s easily worthy of Nashville’s Music Row as opposed to “realtor row” in California. This is music from the heart, honest and true, and it’s well worth your time.
Reviewed by Andrew Greenhalgh