A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange by
I once heard somebody say that Steve Brooks sounds like Phil Ochs, and I was a little mystified by the comparison at first. He actually sounds more like Jimmy Buffett to me. Still the comparison with Phil Ochs begins to make sense if you pay close attention to the way Steve constructs some of his melody lines and the way he structures some of his lyrics. There’s also the fact that Steve Brooks works as a freelance journalist and Phil Ochs was trained as a journalist, but the parallels really stop there. I had planned to take my life into my hands and pursue this comparison into the iffy area of determining who is/was the better writer but, discretion being the better part of valor, I’ll leave the living and the dead in their respective realms and simply say that Purgatory Road is a fine collection of songs from one of the leading lights of the local music scene in Austin.
It’s also a good deal for your record-buying buck. It contains fifteen well written, well played, well produced and well sung songs, and features Steve on vocals and guitar, assisted by such heavy-chops luminaries as Gina Forsyth, Danny Dolinger, Ponty Bone and East Side Flash. If I have a complaint, it’s a small one: the vocals on some of the up-tempo tracks come close to being buried and require extra work to be heard clearly. As I say, it’s a small complaint. We ain’t talkin’ “Get Off My Cloud” or “Fortunate Son” here.
The album is nicely balanced in terms of subject matter and musical styles, though a third of the songs are about Texas or have some heavy Texas content. So, if you don’t like Texas or Texas music, you might want to spend your money somewhere else. The songs range from a Springsteen/Mellencamp type rock and roll, small town, car song (Purgatory Road), to a classic Texas waltz (Bluebonnet Waltz), to a
raunchy, heavy, almost metallic examination of the dark side of politics (The Great White Hope), which segues nicely into a boogie shuffle look at the way things get done in Louisiana (The Land of Catfish). Louisiana is another place that Steve Brooks likes to write songs about.
Steve Brooks is known for being a very funny guy. These days he’s the resident bard on the syndicated Jim Hightower radio show and he’swon the O. Henry national pun off so many times they really ought to think about renaming it the Steve Brooks. Unfortunately, “Purgatory Road” doesn’t contain any of his award winning puns, like the devastatingly funny rendition of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address made up entirely from the names of Texas cities and towns. Fortunately, it does have the achingly hilarious “Hurt Me Tonight” about a songwriter who needs to suffer in order to get over his writer’s block.
I’ve tried to pick some favorites from this album, but my choices keep changing. At this writing I’m leaning toward the last five tracks because the melodies are so pretty they make me green with envy, wishing that I had written them.
Purgatory Road is a fine piece of work from a true practitioner of the songmaker’s art and craft. Put this in your CD player and keep it there for awhile.
Copyright 1998, Peterborough Folk Music Society. This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.