Release Date: May 19, 2017
Record label: Universal
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Hard Rock, Rock & Roll, Bar Band, Heartland Rock
Strip away The Sopranos, the Underground Garage, the bandana-clad Springsteen sidekick role, the hyper-political Sun City all-star single and what you get is a true believer in the power of rock & roll. Little Steven, the guitar-wielding Jersey kid who played the oldies circuit with the Dovells before running off with the E Street Band, is fluid in the modalities of sweet soul, vintage rhythm & blues, stripped down rock and that sweeping Leiber-Stoller song sense. After a solo career that leaned more to the political, albeit Tri State area-steeped musicality, Soulfire is Van Zandt's first true homage to his roots.
Bruce Springsteen's longtime right hand man/shotgun riding guitarist and occasional actor's first solo stab in nearly two decades plays as a re-recorded version of Little Steven's greatest hits. If, as Steven Van Zandt says in the press notes accompanying the release "This record is me doing me," then he seemingly wants to be Southside Johnny, whose first three albums Steven notably produced and helped write songs for. It's impossible not to hear the Southside Johnny blueprint of horn-bolstered classic R&B on Soulfire, both in the boisterous, brassy arrangements and Steven's vocals that are often so similar to Johnny's as to be almost indistinguishable.
Little Steven didn't precisely abandon his solo career, but he did stop recording his own albums after 1999's Born Again Savage. He had a few things to keep him busy, including newfound stardom as a television star thanks to The Sopranos and a reunited E Street Band, not to mention philanthropy and the development of his own record label (Wicked Cool) and radio station (Little Steven's Underground Garage). When he finally found the time to record 2017's Soulfire, he decided the best course of action was to ditch the big political statements that characterized his '80s work and instead craft a statement of personal purpose.
With typical bluntness, Steve Van Zandt has declared that he has "very little interest in the modern world". Here he duly revisits his own past, on an album that blends new material with covers of his old work and that of others. The titles alone tell you what to expect: Soulfire, The Blues Is My Business (released by Etta James in 2003) and Some Things Just Don't Change (a 1977 Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes number) are horn-blasted, with mewling guitars, whisky-soaked riffs and solid, barstool rhythms.