Steve Marriner – Hope Dies Last
Stony Plain Records – 2021
10 tracks; 38 minutes
Canadian Steve Marriner is clearly a guy who likes to keep busy. He is one third of MonkeyJunk, half of a duo with Harry Manx and a regular collaborator with Colin James and Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar. His latest release was recorded both before and during the Covid pandemic, one track dating back as far as 2017, four of the ten tracks coming from what was obviously a very productive session on November 23, 2020.
In contrast to MonkeyJunk albums, this one involves a far wider range of musicians: Steve plays harp and guitar, bass, drums and piano as required, Jimmy Bowskill plays lead guitar on five tracks, pedal steel and bass on one track and adds harmony vocals to four, Aaron Goldstein plays pedal steel on one, Chris Caddell and Steve Dawson provide slide guitar on a track each, Jesse O’Brien plays keys on four tracks, Michael Ayotte piano on one; Glenn Milchem plays drums on four tracks, Daniel Neill and Geoff Hicks on one each, Darcy Yates plays bass on five cuts, Ian McKeown on one. There are a lot of vocalists helping out, Ian McKeown is on three tracks, Brittany Brooks, Moa Blucher and Roxanne Potvin do the honours on two cuts apiece, Mwansa Mwansa and Samantha Martin on one each, while Samantha also duets with Steve on a song. Steve produced the album, wrote four songs himself, collaborated with several different writers on another four and there are two covers.
The sounds of a busy street preface opening track “Take Me To The City” before pounding drums and ringing guitars set us up for a rocking track. Steve has a strong voice, here supported by three backing vocalists, and he pulls out a great harp solo, complemented by Jimmy Bowskill’s solo. “Honey Bee” was a track on Tom Petty’s Wildflowers album, Steve’s version arguably returns the song closer to its influences in blues tunes by Muddy Waters and Slim Harpo. First single from the album “How High” is a high tempo rocker with the rhythm section hitting hard and Bowskill again taking the guitar honors, the song also referencing bees! Steve is ready to do what is necessary in this relationship: “You say jump and I’ll say how high”. “Somethin’ Somethin’” sounds like a desperate plea for help: “My mind has enslaved me, I need someone to help me, I need someone to crave me, someone who ain’t afraid of me”, Steve’s agonizing harp blast fitting the bleak mood of the lyrics. The catchy “Coal Mine” takes us deep into Americana territory.
Samantha Martin shares the vocals on a ballad about the girl whose man told he that she was “Enough”, Steve then reinforcing that the relationship is not strong enough to survive. Beautifully produced, Jesse O’Brien’s Hammond and Jimmy Bowskill’s weeping pedal steel match the tragic mood well. The funky instrumental “Uptown Lockdown” reminded me of The Meters and acts as a sort of interlude before Steve sings in French on “Petite Danse”, a song that came into his head when he heard the news of Dr John’s passing on the radio; native speaker Roxanne Potvin assisted with the grammar of the lyrics and adds her harmony vocals to the song, the groove and slide guitar bringing Little Feat to mind. “Hear My Heart” is a heavier tune with Chris Caddell double-tracked on slide and lead work, Steve playing some torrid harp before ending the album with an extended version of “Long Way Down” by fellow Canadian Kaylen Prescott. It’s just acoustic guitar, harp and piano, all played by Steve, plus backing vocals and strings, a song with a wistful feel and sad lyrics about people falling from grace, either through drugs or gambling.
Far from a straight blues album, Steve has produced a blend of rocking and thoughtful songs here that provide a thoroughly enjoyable listen.