For those who may not be familiar with the now-storied career of Steve Almaas, he was born in Minneapolis in 1956 and had his life changed forever when he saw The Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” He tried his hand at piano, violin and guitar before picking up a bass, his first electric instrument. In the mid-’70’s, he joined Chris Osgood (guitar/vocals) and Dave Ahl (drums/vocals) to form The Suicide Commandos, the first punk rock group from the Twin Cities area. The Commandos are credited with launching a local scene that brought forth the likes of Hüsker Dü, Soul Asylum and The Replacements, among many others.
Following the dissolution of the Commandos, Almaas assembled a new band called The Crackers and relocated to New York. The year was 1979, and the city’s New Wave and No Wave scenes were in full swing. He became good friends with Mitch Easter and the members of The dB’s (Chris Stamey, Peter Holsapple, Will Rigby and Gene Holder), and he crossed paths with several other bands including The Bongos, 8-Eyed Spy and the Raybeats.
After The Crackers broke up, Almaas formed Beat Rodeo, a quartet that skirted the fringes of the big time. They released two albums on I.R.S. Records (home of R.E.M. and The Go-Go’s) and toured the U.S. and Europe. Record sales failed to match their critical success, however, and the band fizzled out by 1988. Now firmly planted in New York, Steve embarked on a variety of musical ventures, including The Gornack Brothers, a duo with George Usher; and The Kool Kings, with Justice Hahn and Alex Chilton. He released his first solo album, East River Blues, in 1993.
Everywhere You’ve Been is Steve Almaas’s sixth solo album; this particular album is an especially-accomplished work of roots–pop songcrafting and was performed with a stellar supporting cast. The personnel includes longtime Bob Dylan bassist Tony Garnier; guitarist Kenny Vaughan (from Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives); Jon Graboff on pedal steel; Mitch Easter contributes lead guitar to two songs and Gary Louris of The Jayhawks provides harmony – Mr. Almaas oversaw his own production.
The first thing that comes across in this entire album is warmth; the naturalness of Mr. Almaas’ writing and delivery, especially in his vocals – just the acapella opening to the title track, “Everywhere You’ve Been”, sets the table. And the gentle sweetness of the song’s melody and execution carries the listener on an emotional wave (the pedal steel automatically induces shivers). The twang and “live”/”in room” sound and feel to “Goodbye Nicolina” gives an uplift to the mournful nature of the song – and the subtle key shift on the chorus and middle 8 make it an exquisite moment; “Someway, Somehow, Somewhere” almost reminds me of the rollicking Elvis tune “Too Much”; “The Way I Treated You” automatically brought me back to my youth, when I listened to country radio becaus of my mother; a song buoyed by a neat shuffle and very tasty acoustic guitar work. “She Don’t Love You” immediately (right or wrong) made me thing of “Devil In Her Heart” on the intro and has a very early ’60’s vibe; “Bred In The Bone” has a nifty Farfisa melody and a driving roller-rink feel and “The One Thing I Cannot Do” is vintage country – a piece that transcends all eras – and hits on every emotional note it can.
Steve Almaas knows how to write and construct a song that provokes your senses in the right way. These songs make you feel joy, sadness, nostalgia – in a word, he’s mastered that art. And with this latest album, it’s testimony to what I’ve just said.
Everywhere You’ve Been is available now.