You know I get a lot of unusual CDs that artists send me to review. Most of them don’t make it to the review stage, but once in a while they will pop up here if they show signs of good musicianship. In other words, I don’t mind strange.
But I received this one album, No Time Like Now, from one of the publicists who regularly sends me great music. The artists name is Strongman, and my first thought was, what’s going on, is this guy a wrestler or something? I check out the back cover and he kind of has that look. You know, like he’s in pain or about to inflict pain.
I’m so glad I remembered my mother’s mantra of not judging a book (or in this case a CD) by its cover, as the Strongman in question is Steve Strongman, a very cool Canadian Blues Artists, who not only looks like he can kick ass, he plays like it as well.
On this album, Strongman handles the vocals and guitars and co-wrote nine of the ten songs on the album with his producer and main bass player Rob Szabo. He’s surrounded himself with one of the tightest ensembles I’ve heard in a while. Aside from playing a lot of the bass, Szabo also adds his talents on keys, percussion, and backing vocals.
Other musicians include Dave King and Adam Warner splitting time on the drums; Alec Fraser on bass for a couple of tracks; and Jesse O’Brien adding his take on the keys for a couple of tracks. There’s also a very special guest on one song that we’ll get to soon.
No Time Like Now dropped on March 10 and is available through Sonic Unyon Records. I like his style a lot, and won’t be questioning his name again when I see it on his other albums.
The album starts off with the title track, No Time Like Now, and you can immediately hear that Strongman and Szabo are flexing their musical muscles. The sound is stripped down but still powerful. It’s a hard driving blue collar song and you can tell that you’re in good hands for the CD.
They follow up with another pounding number, Bring The Hammer Down. Again, there is no room for frills on the song, just a very simple collection of instruments and Strongman’s menacing vocals. There’s some serious rock influence in the song, but it’s still powerful.
Next up is Money In The Bank, which makes use of an interesting guitar approach. It’s a cool song and again mixes blues and rock to create the sound. King’s drums add a great deal to the song and I found myself playing this one a couple of times in a row.
The only song on the album not written by the tandem of Strongman and Szabo is You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet, the Bachman Turner Overdrive classic, and this version features special guest Randy Bachman, the man who wrote and performed it all those years ago. If you listened to radio in the ‘70’s you already know the song by heart, especially with the staccato stuttering delivery of the chorus. Here, Strongman gives it a fresh interpretation, almost at a ballad tempo, and actually performs the chorus the way Bachman originally wanted to perform it before the studio got involved. (Okay, he does do the stutter delivery a little bit.) It’s a very strong cover and it’s very cool to hear Randy Bachman playing again. The guitar interplay is so much fun.
The gospel tinged Love Love Love follows quickly and changes the feel of the album a little. This number is strongly driven by vocals for the opening and doesn’t utilize the guitar pyrotechnics the way many of the other songs do. It’s a feel good song and a nice touch. I don’t see who played the harp, but it adds quite a bit during its short burst in the song.
Strongman proves he can get funky with I’m A Man, a soul number that adds just enough dance licks to get everyone out on the floor. I like the vocals when they don’t go into the falsetto range. This one plays with a number of different elements and while I like the song, there are others on the album that appeal to me more.
A harp riff opens Old School and quickly gives way to the guitar. It’s the story of the blues and the way one has to learn and pay one’s dues. No matter how good the sound may be now, you have to go back to the ones who started it all, that is, if you want to really play the blues. Good song and it pays respect through the music to those giants of old school.
More harp on Good Times, a dark number that starts out slow and deliberate. I really like this song a lot and feel that Strongman has opened up is soul on this number and presented himself as more vulnerable. This one will be making the rounds, and will be heard on Time For The Blues soon.
The nice slow mellow number Sometimes opens quietly. This one has an ethereal sound, especially after the hard driving rock blues that we’ve heard on some of the earlier songs. This pairs well with the previous song, helping us to experience a different side of Strongman; one that’s more open and identifiable.
The last song on the album, The Day They Carry Me Away, is the longest and he continues with the softer approach of the previous two songs. The songwriting is very strong, reminiscent of some of Doc Pomus’ later works. Strongman’s vocals are strong – soulful, mixed with a fervent gospel sound while staying rooted in the blues. It’s a powerful way to bring the album to a close.
I think it’s safe to say that I jumped to a conclusion about the artist based on a lack of knowledge. Every once in a while the Professor gets schooled and this was one of those times. Steve Strongman is a blues artists of a high order and now that I’ve been initiated into his music, I will be making a concerted effort to locate his previous albums so I can share them with you as well.
In the meantime, check out his website for a full bio, a glimpse into his musical approach, and his appearances near you. If you get a chance to catch him live, please let me know how the show was, I really want to know. You can find all the info here: https://www.stevestrongman.com/. It’s worth making the effort to find more from him.