Don Stevenson was co-founder of one of the most influential San Francisco bands, Moby Grape (Robert Plant, Bruce Springsteen and Randy Bachman are among those they influenced).
His first solo albums in years, Buskin’ in the Subway, finds him writing and performing twelve fabulous new songs – bookended by two Grape classics, I’m Leaving You and 8:05.
Let’s start with this note: while most everyone can appreciate a well-crafted pop song, or boogie down to some good EDM, there is nothing like a great rock & roll record to get its visceral hooks into you.
Buskin’ in the Subway is a great rock & roll album.
Sure, it’s got its blues/jazz/country influences, but they are all fused with good ole rock & roll.
The album opens with the stinging I’m-done-with-you goodbye raver, I’m Leaving You – written by Stevenson’s Grape co-founder, Jerry Miller (brother of Steve – in case you were wondering) – featuring a driving rhythm section, nifty slide work From Tim Bovaconti and some tasty lead by Miller.
Do You Ever Think About Me (Don Stevenson original) finds a guy wondering if the woman he loves is wondering about him. It’s a song about yearning that has the kind of loping rhythm that puts the roll in rock & roll.
Buskin’ in the Subway (Don Stevenson) is something that Stevenson has been known to do in Toronto. While busking gives an artist his truest connection with his listeners, there’s this small matter of needing to get a license to do so. This song is about that red tape.
Dog on a Bone (Don Stevenson) is a song about the joy of determination – and the sadness. It’s something of a shuffle and more fun than it sounds.
C U Everywhere I Go (Don Stevenson) brings a bit of country and funk to the rock in a song about being consumed by love – no sense, no control – and being unable to so much as babble in her presence.
Driving the Train (Dane Clark) – Heading home to you – distance, darkness and weather be damned. Hard rocking tune with sizzling yet tasty lead from Jerry Miller.
Regret (Don Stevenson) – exactly what it says on the tin. The woulda, coulda, shoulda of a lost relationship. A country/Celtic-infused lament with aching violin by Julie Skull and lap steel by Tim Bovaconti.
Almost Feels Good To Feel Bad (Don Stevenson) – Jazzy/bluesy tune about wallowing in self-pity until it almost feels good. Poignant yet stinging trumpet solo by PJ Yinger.
Walkin’ in the Fire (Don Stevenson & Dane Clark) is a philosophical mid-tempo rocker about not being to love someone if you can’t love yourself. You might want to pay special attention to the lyrics on this one.
Getting Late (Don Stevenson) – Opposites attract in this solid country rocker with lovely acoustic guitar from Kenny Vaughn.
The Letter (Don Stevenson & Josh Knowles) – He wakes up. There’s a letter. Second most plaintive song on the album. Possibly sadder even than being broken up with via email…
I Counted on You (Don Stevenson) – Misplaced trust in a country blues setting. Lovely but heartbreaking.
Urban Angel (Don Stevenson) – Sometimes an unexpected smile is all you need.
8:05 (Jerry Miller & Don Stevenson) – possibly the most perfect song the Grape ever did, a classic parting of the ways, complete with pleading, song slightly rearranged to put more emphasis on its country leanings. Tear-inducing harmonies by Burton Cummings.
Even if you’ve never heard of Moby Grape, you know from what I said earlier, that they influenced some artists you definitely know.
On Buskin’ in the Subway, Stevenson has raised his songwriting to Grape levels and assembled some top-notch players to create a terrific album.
His vocals bely his age – this is no past his prime; no voice left seeker of former glory. Stevenson still has a solid range and can shout with the best of ‘em while being able to find the right levels of sweetness on ballads or grit for straight ahead rocking.Buskin’ in the Subway is as good as anything the Grape recorded – and there is no higher praise than that.
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Note: You can order Buskin’ in the Subway from Stevenson at firstname.lastname@example.org