Tuesday, April 6, 2010

April 6: Steve Poltz, "The Great Mystery"

Artist: Steve Poltz
Song: "The Great Mystery"
Album: One Left Shoe
Year: 1998

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Among many thing, history has proven that in a large number of cases, the artists who are truly the most unique and important are often misunderstood until many years later.  Due to their ability to be completely genius, without appearing like anything else at the time, in retrospect, it becomes clear that their chosen art form simply would not have developed as it did without their presence.  This can easily be seen as true throughout music history, and over the past twenty years, few artists have so perfectly fit this idea as the man who can easily make the case as the greatest songwriter of his generation, Steve Poltz.  Easily able to run the entire gamut, from bright, often silly songs to some of the most absolutely beautiful compositions ever recorded, Poltz knows few equals anywhere in history, and the fact that nearly every song in his catalog is so brilliant serves as a testament to just how much talent lives within this man.  Perhaps best known for co-writing Jewel's hit, "You Were Meant For Me," it is within his work with his former band, The Rugburns, as well as his massive amount of solo work that one gets a complete picture as to the distinct sound and style that is Steve Poltz.  It was in the wake of his success with Jewel that Poltz was given a major-label deal, and his 1998 release for Mercury Records, One Left Shoe, remains one of the finest albums of that entire decade.  Filled with songs that perfectly represent every side of Poltz's uncanny talent, the album features everything from bright horn sections to quieter numbers that boast little more than Poltz and his acoustic guitar.  Though every track on the record is fantastic in its own right, few songs so perfectly capture as many sides of Steve Poltz's personality simultaneously as the uniquely beautiful love song, "The Great Mystery."

Looking at his catalog as a whole, one can make the case that, while his more musically complex numbers are certainly fantastic, the true genius of Steve Poltz comes most often when it is little more than the man and his guitar.  Though at first listen, it may sound like little more than the "standard" singer-songwriter approach, on closer inspection, there is far more going on within the music.  Within this simple arrangement, the true beauty and emotion behind the music and words Poltz writes is better spotlighted, and it is more evident why he is such a special talent.  On "The Great Mystery," this formula works perfectly, and with extremely light drums and a bit of "filling" musical texture, the song brings an extremely intimate mood.  It is also within the stripped down musical arrangement that one can hear Poltz's wide range of influences, as the song takes as much from the country/western style of music as it does from soul and blues, and yet the song has an undeniable pop-appeal as well.  This ability to blend together so many influences is one of the trademarks of Steve Poltz's music over his career, and it is one of the key aspects that makes his songs so uniquely wonderful.  The way in which the brushed drums interact with Poltz's winding acoustic guitar, particularly during the songs' middle solo, is absolutely beautiful, and in an era when music was overly synthesized and artificial, it was the pure, gorgeous sounds of songs like "The Great Mystery" that not only brought a breath of fresh air, but proved that in the end, the most classic sounds remain the best.

Perfectly complimenting the straightforward music approach, Steve Poltz possesses what is without question one of the most purely perfect singing voices in music history.  Able to bring as much conviction and heart as any other performer in history, as well as fill songs with his uniquely quirky sense of humor, there is simply no other artist that quite compares to Poltz.  Everything that there is to love about both the singing and writing of Poltz is on display on "The Great Mystery," and his soft, soulful voice plays in brilliant harmony to the warm, soothing sound of his guitar.  As is true with a large number of his songs, "The Great Mystery" is a uniquely constructed love song, and one of the many ways in which Poltz proves his mastery is the way in which he is able to so stunningly create non-traditional love songs which carry equal, if not more impact that those which "follow the formula."  Spinning unorthodox ideas and phrases into this song of heartbreak, Steve Poltz perfectly captures the pain and struggle of love gone wrong and the frustrations there in with amazing lyrics like, '...are you going deaf? Or just ignoring me?"  Poltz's ability to convey such universal emotions in a manner unlike any other writer in history is perhaps his true mark of genius, and the chorus contains one of the finest lyrics of his career when he sings, "...well, I've played darts with tender hearts, and I've had mine busted too..."  Clearly putting his entire soul on display, one would be hard pressed to find as honest and distinctive a love song as is contained in Steve Poltz's brilliantly beautiful "The Great Mystery."

For nearly twenty years, Steve Poltz has been creating some of the most original and refreshing music on the planet, and the recorded catalog that he has amassed in that time period represents the high mark of quality across every musical genre.  Rarely needing more than just his voice and an acoustic guitar to convey his wide-ranging musical themes and ideas, few artists can boast as entertaining a catalog as Poltz, as he proves that when done correctly, songs can be both beautiful and amusing simultaneously. While his work with The Rugburns certainly highlighted his sillier side, the handful of softer, more meaningful songs within their catalog gives an early indication of the stunning music that would come from the mind of Poltz after he embarked on his solo career.  Following his success alongside Jewel, Poltz released a number of solo records and continues to do so to this day, and each record contains more beautiful compositions, all with Poltz's unique spin, and his live performances remain just as memorable and extraordinary as his recorded music.  His first "formal" solo album, 1998's One Left Shoe presents all of these sides of Poltz's personality, from the quirky love-ditty "Impala" to the absolutely gorgeous "Everything About You."  While these two songs in many ways represent the far sides of Poltz's musical personality, it is when he works at the center-point of these two styles where he is at his best, and there has simply never been another artist with a musical vision similar to that of Poltz.  While there is truly not a "bad" song anywhere in the recorded history of Steve Poltz, he has rarely been as honest and open than one finds in his gracefully heartbreaking 1998 song, "The Great Mystery."

1 comment:

Colleen said...

although its not my FAVORITE by far, I agree its beauty is unmatched.
Personally, Kicking Distance is my favorite... the bass kicks in and grabs you by the ass...
I dig a little ass grabbing once in awhile.