12 songs — 51 minutes
Based out of Vancouver, British Columbia, Steve Kozak has been an institution in the Canadian Northwest since emerging in the 1980s. Although he might not be a household name south of the border, he delivers modern blues with an old-school feel that’s certain to please listeners around the globe.
A gifted guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, he’s distinctly different than many of the rock-blues artists of the modern era. A stylish fret master in the West Coast style who delivers delicious, chunky single-note runs that steadily drive songs forward slightly behind the beat, he finally rose to international prominence in 2012, when he earned Canada’s top blues honor: the Maple Blues Award for new artist and band of the year.
It’s Time is the fourth release in Kozak’s catalog, a follow-up to his 2012 album, Lookin’ At Lucky, which featured a guest appearance by harmonica ace James Harmon, which climbed to the top of the charts North Of The Border.
He intersperses several tasty originals with a handful of carefully chosen covers on this one, backed by his regular band, consisting of keyboard player Dave Webb, bassist Roger Brant and 2016 Maple Award nominee percussionist Chris “The Wrist” Nordquist. But he’s also enlisted the help of another group of heavyweights.
Joining in on the fun are harp virtuoso Shawn Hall and guitarist Matthew Wesley Rogers — better known as The Harpoonist And The Axe Murderer, one of the top duos in Canada, who oversaw production in addition to contributing their musical talents — as well as trumpet player Jerry Cook of the long-running band Powder Blues and guitarist Dave Vidal, who’s worked with Taj Mahal, Big Joe Duskin and Lowell Fulson, among others.
Created thanks to a grant from The Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent On Recording (FACTOR) and captured at Afterlife and Neighborhood studios in Vancouver, the disc swings from the jump with the original, “Cane Sugar Sweet,” a walking blues portrait of a lady who makes the singer’s “poor heart skip a beat when she comes walkin’ down my street.” Kozak’s in total control in an all-too-brief stop-time solo mid-tune.
Steve dips into the songbook of legendary Chicago guitar stylist Jody Williams for “You May,” one of the best tunes of the ’50s. Obscured by the passage of time, it delivers the familiar message: “Don’t care how much you got/Don’t care who you may know/Yes, there will come a time/When everybody’s got to go.” Kozak’s syncopated jump original, “Messed Up,” follows with the singer having cried the whole night through out of fear of losing his lady. His guitar skills come to the fore in a powerful, understated manner.
Magic Sam’s “Every Night And Every Day” features Hall answering Kozak’s vocals with steady rhythm on harp and plenty of six-string pyrotechnics before a faithful cover of Brook Benton’s “Kiddio,” a hit in 1960 that was covered frequently through the ’70s, receives a well-deserved reprise. The original, “Trouble,” featuring Rogers on guitar, is a syncopated warning to stay away to someone who acts like an angel, but is basically a devil in disguise.
A cover of Anson Funderburgh’s “One Woman I Need,” featuring Vidal, follows before a run of three more originals. “That’s Cool With Me” is a stop-time pleaser that deals with a lover’s rejection, while “Stranger In My Hometown” is a bittersweet ballad about finally being ready to pack up and move on, and “Tell Me Why” is a harp-driven, medium-tempo query about the motivation of someone who’s always following the singer around despite being unwilling to answer him on the phone.
One more worthy cover follows. Written by Henry Glover — a King Records star in the ’60s who became one of the first prominent record executives of color — and Julius Dixson — and a hit for Little Willie John, “Love, Life & Money” is a burning ballad about paying the price and losing everything described in the title. “Goin’ Fishin’,” a Chicago-tinged, harp driven blues, brings the album to a close.
Classy and smooth from beginning to end, It’s Time is available through Amazon, CDBaby, Israbox or direct from the artist’s website (address above). If you’re old-school like me and like your music to swing, this one’s definitely your style.