The Green Man Review

Steve Brooks, Fever (Frog, 2002)

“We’re all hostages, caught in the crossfire between two spoiled rich kids.” — Steve Brooks

Many people don’t think of Texas as a hotbed of political protest. Perhaps, considering Global Warming, many just think of it as a hot bed. But this is an illusion, especially when you consider the Lone Star State’s avant garde capital, Austin. Journalist/punster/singer-songwriter Steve Brooks is from Austin, and his little four song EP Fever is a protest against changes which have take place since the World Trade Center crash.

Known also for playing Irish music, Brooks began his recording career as a typical Austin singer-songwriter. He is most known for his sad romantic “Bluebonnet Waltz,” (on Purgatory Road) which leaves listeners dripping with tears during live performances. During the late 90’s he also wrote satirical songs at the rate of one a week for Hightower Radio and released some of these on Sex, Lies, and Videotape: Songs For Hightower Radio. Only a few years later, many of the songs are outdated. Remember the lush days of Bill and Monica? Others, like “I Wanna Get A Nuclear Weapon,” seem to lead in to what is now the grimly silly present.

Two of the songs on Fever are Brooks’ typical satires, with drive-by-shooting lyrics and pop-country tunes and arrangements. One is “The Terrorists Have Won.”

“I mean the ones in Washington
If you sacrifice your freedom and your rights
The terrorists have won.”

“Fever,” the title track, is probably the best song. Using a jazzy-blues tune, Brooks sings about a black plague. Bubonic plague maybe? No, it’s a fever for war!

“Right now we need a vaccine
For the propaganda machine.”

The other two are slower and more thoughtful. “Normal No More” needs a few plays to sink in, but when it does, it mimics the chill and shock of the Big Crash, of how the ambiance of life was changed by the Big Crash for many Americans, even in provincial areas like Texas and Oregon.

“What you used to call peace
Was the start of the war.”

My remembrance is that things in fact did settle back to normal in the summer of ’02, but then came the big crash of Iraq in the fall, throwing in a compelling new twist of abnormality on minds previously pondering the president’s sex life, capital punishment, and gay rights! Brooks comments on this new war-crazy twist in the grandiose, Celtic-influenced “The Silence Of the Lambs”:

“And when your ears are being opened
To the voices of the damned
Know the truth is only spoken
In the silence of the lambs.”

Though the lyrics in these songs ring very true, the delivery lacks the wit and sparkle of the “drive-by-shooting” tracks. Perhaps they are songs destined to be most effective as “covers,” not necessarily a negative thing for songwriters.

Only a few months ago, I reviewed a timely political release by David Rovics, Hang A Flag In the Window. Rovics is more strident and his compositions more radically left of center; Brooks’ songs seem to represent the “real people” potpourri of peace advocates. In the few months that separate the releases, I have come to feel, as you may have too, that unity is indeed possible.

[Judith Gennett]