Steven Blane is a singer/songwriter and multi instrumentalist (guitar, piano, ukelele) hailing from New York City, as well as being a Universalist Rabbi and Cantor. His music ranges in style and genre, encompassing Americana, folk, rock and blues and jazz, amongst hints of other genres. As well as being musically eclectic, he has also been prolific with four albums releases during the last four years, from 2018’s So New York to 2021’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Several albums preceded these, stretching back to 2015. He has developed a sizeable fanbase, with some songs racking up big numbers on the major league streaming sites like Spotify.
This album, The Met, consists of ten tracks and the overall style is in keeping with the sophisticated, jazzy style of songwriters like Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra. While attempting such a distinguished and complex style of songwriting might faze lesser artists, Blane is blessed with both a suitably rich and sonorous voice for this kind of material and a finely honed skill for navigating the compositional side, with a natural flair for melody. Alongside this style are the more familiar 50’s-style torch songs and tragic ballads reminiscent of Elvia and Roy Orbison, done so well on previous albums.
The album kicks off gloriously with the exotic, Spanish-tinged What If, Blane delivering a perfectly measured vocal, a performance that portray’s a lover’s insecurity. The lyrics depict a man with nagging doubts about the woman he loves but the lyrics are full of clever irony and dry wit: “What if we die with our regrets? And there are no more tête-à-têtes and only menthol cigarettes…what if, what if….”. Mellifluous saxophone swirls round the song throughout, the perfect icing on the cake for this moody masterpiece.
Mournful, melancholy harmonica opens up the following Day After New Year’s Eve but the dry humour is never far away (“The weather is friggin’ cold...”). The relatively sparse musical backdrop is very effective, a colourful, Bridge Over Troubled Water piano arrangement lays the platform for a superb, heartfelt vocal from Blane. As well written as anything on, let’s say, Sinatra’s classic Songs For Swinging Lovers, it sets a very high bar for the rest of the album.
Fortunately, the quality is maintained by third track The Met, though quite a contrast. Much lighter in mood, more in the style of someone like Stephen Sondheim, the erudite and poetic lyrics are perhaps the most sophisticated on the entire album. There’s a Noel Coward-like ingenuity and wit at work as New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is celebrated: “Let’s meet at the Met, by the bust of Pompeii, wander through Ancient Rome then move on to Marseille…”. With shades of Randy Newman, this song is brief but exquisitely crafted and hugely enjoyable.
I Hate Her sounds like it might be a bitter rant against an ex-lover but it turns out to be a deeply tender love song (“Oh how I hate her dreamy eyes….”). It’s a wonderfully poignant song, capturing the heartache and pain that comes from loving someone deeply, the agony of trying to bury those feelings: “I don’t miss her honey lips, her tender kiss or the love that we knew…”. Steven here gives perhaps the most impressive vocal performance on the album, his vocal technically excellent while conveying great emotional depth with every line. A classic.
Love Is makes for another fine contrast, upbeat and with a charming Cole Porter-esque whimsy, with only a shade of melancholy. It’s another well written song, once again featuring some fabulous saxophone that really makes it swing. We’re then transported from the 1930’s to the 1950’s with the rootsy Americana of She Danced Like An Angel. It’s full of the mystique and magic you connect with that great period of music and the gritty, evocative lead guitar shows the influence of one of Blane’s favourite songwriters, Tom Waits.
In My Lonely Place is another highlight with a particularly good vocal from Steven, full of romantic longing and ennui. The atmosphere of a late night jazz bar at 2am is conjured up by the velvetine piano and dreamy sax lines. I can guarantee that if Mr. Blane gave such a strong performance live as he does here he would be met with a standing ovation for both the song and his singing.
Love Is A Hurting Thing is a switch back to his 50’s-style balladry with its Earth Angel-esque chord progression and driving acoustic guitar. Blane’s vocals are rather more gritty on this one, a nice juxtaposition.
Mean To Me is another one perfect for midnight in a jazz bar, this one in 6/8 with upright bass and deliciously languid drums. Lazy and luscious sax interweaves with Blane’s bittersweet vocals as he contends with another femme fatale.
The album concludes on a high note with the breezy and witty The Best Things In Life Aren’t Free, which offers a healthy dose of realism to a well known saying that never quite rang true. Blane exudes a Sinatra/Bing Crosby style charm and charisma, delivering every line with conviction and aplomb, ensuring this album ends with the same level of quality with which it began.
Overall, The Met ranks as one of Steven Blane’s best albums so far and possibly his finest. Showing a remarkable compositional versatility and sophistication as well as a fine facility for penning great lyrics, Blane brings his songs to life with consistently first rate vocal performances. The result is an album without a weak moment and several songs that deserve classic status, in this writer’s opinion.