Steve Strauss – Sea Of Dreams – Stockfisch stereo-only

Steve Strauss – Sea Of Dreams – Stockfisch SFR357.4084.2 0 stereo-only SACD, 59:38 ***1/2:

(Steve Strauss – guitar, vocals;Don Ross – guitar, dobro, lapsteel; Lutz Moller – piano; Manfred Leuchter – accordion; Martin Huch – pedal steel; Beo Brockhausen – tin whistle, saxes; Wolfgang Beisert – ukulele; Michael Kleinhans – tuba, whistling; Grischka Zepf – electric bass; Hans-Jorg Maucksch – fretless bass; Ralf Gustke & Sven von Samson – drums)

Stockfisch Records has established a reputation for elevating folk music with advanced SACD technology. The latest release is Steve Strauss’ Sea Of Dreams. With a quirky baritone voice, Strauss emotes a unique sound that is languid and festive. The arrangements are simple, but textured. The opening title track exudes melancholy (“…there is wine in the well of hope…”). Don Ross adds lapsteel guitar in measured dose to complement the simple guitar, drum (Ralf Gustke) and electric bass (Grischka Zepf). The momentum shifts on “Freaky World”, as the jam is up-tempo talking blues. The storyline is humorously anecdotal (“…I was born and raised in a circus side show…”) and the accordion shading (Manfred Leuchter) reflects that. Strauss’ narratives are weird and his pitch-defying voice examines social commentary (“Off The Wire”), at times with spooky musical structure. He is capable of interpreting positive vibes. “Forever And A Day” is straightforward country rock, Stockfisch veteran Beo Brochhausen contributes a fluid saxophone solo.

There are a variety of rhythmic nuances. “Radio Man” feels like a zydeco dance number with accordion and dobro (Ross). He covers a classic Neil Young song (“For The Turnstiles” from the 1974 underappreciated album, On The Beach). This represents some of the best instrumental chemistry on Sea Of Dreams). Strauss has a feel for Americana roots. On “Naked”, he infuses rockabilly into atmospheric translation (not unlike Mark Knopfler). Simple country waltz time anchors the whimsical “Last Day Out”. Basic folk rock with a fluid mesh of guitar/ukulele (Wolfgang Beisert) and accordion (Leuchter) enlivens “Monster,” a salute to movies. There is an effective segue at the 3:34 mark. Strauss’ creaky voice is most effective in slower tempos. “On The Moon” (with its de-accelerated ¾ time) is unconventionally soulful, especially with a mournful sax interlude). In a change of pace, “The Memory Of Stones” is a ruminating ballad with a lyrical piano (Lutz Moller) accompaniment. A delicate tin whistle fits nicely. The finale is a cover of a lesser-known Bacharach/David song (“With Open Arms”) that sounds out of place.

TrackList: Sea Of Dreams; Freaky World; Off The Wire; Forever and A Day; Acts Of War; Radio Man; For The Turnstiles; Naked; Last Day Out; Monster; Oh, I; On The Moon; The Memory Of Stones; With Open Arms

—Robbie Gerson

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