Steve Moakler – Blue Jeans (Creative Nation Music)
Blue Jeans is the 5th studio album from Pennsylvania born singer songwriter Steve Moakler. Although he’s written songs for the likes of Dierks Bentley, Reba McEntire, Joe Nicholls and Jake Owen, his own recording career has yet to reach those kinds of levels. With a fair wind and fine weather, Blue Jeans could just be the big step up for him.
Blue Jeans is full of songs that Steve has either written or co-written drawing on his own life experiences. ’72 Winnebago, for example, recounts a cross country trip that he and his wife Gracie took in the titular vehicle a few years ago to promote and advance both of their careers. Steve would play sets by invitation in small towns and campgrounds, and in doing so draw interest in Gracie’s hand made jewellery business. It’s something they’ve continued to do, although that Winnebago is long gone. A funky back beat is the driver for this nostalgic journey from state to state.
“Almost all these songs I have a very personal experience attached to it,” Moakler told Billboard. “I think it’s easier to write, because you’re pulling from exactly what’s on your heart and what your experience has been. I guess I’ve learned from my heroes and my favorite music is somehow, mysteriously, the most personal story is also the most universal.”
The album is produced by Luke Laird, who also produced Moakler’s previous release Born Ready as well as Kacey Musgraves’ first two albums, and by Nick Lobel – who has worked in the studio with Kelsea Ballerini and Russell Dickerson, among many others. This combination gives the resulting recordings something of a pep-up from previous, without going overboard on production tricks and techniques – they’re there and you can hear them, but they don’t dominate any of the tracks. You can still hear the organic recording within each song, the production direction merely gives sympathetic embelishment.
Between them, Laird and Lobel know how to make a record that sounds good; attractive, even. Blue Jeans is no exception. They’ve given it a slightly shimmery feel, redolent of laid back nights outdoors by the campfire. It’s a very comfortable place for these songs. There’s nothing that would sound out of place on country radio, but it’s a long way from being a “country pop” album.
How Have We Never is a perfect example. It mines an easy mid-tempo groove with layered, echo-y slide guitars over giving that slightly dreamy atmosphere, for a song that reflects on how friends have never become “more than friends” over the years. It has a lovely feel to it, so much warmth, so much familiar imagery in everyday occurrences between two people that might (or might not) be significant.
There’s a “normal kinda guy” persona that really comes through across the album. There’s a certain honesty to Moakler’s voice, having a gentle, barely noticeable rasp to it and a style of delivery that avoids the kind of affectations that others might employ. He writes simple, natural melodies without the need for “clever” chord changes. Songwriters can sometimes fall to the temptation to use a smart pun or a witty turn of phrase to catch the attention, when all that’s really needed is to tell the story. To his and the album’s credit, Moakler avoids that particular pitfall. The story always has preeminence, everything else is built around it to serve and support the story. It all adds together to keep the heart of the album within reach, and speaking a language we can all understand.
In that vein, and in contrast to ’72 Winnebago, the song When You Could Still Remember evokes a situation many will sadly be familiar with – that of a relative with dementia. In this case, it’s his own grandmother. Steve doesn’t shy away from his own feelings and the chorus will surely strike a chord with some. “Sorry I ain’t called, that I ain’t been back | I really want to see you but lately it hurts too bad | Guess it makes me kinda angry, guess it makes me kinda sad | That I didn’t spend more time with you, back when you could still remember who I am”. Moakler keeps the song from tipping over into over-sentimentality by being honest about himself. It’s a songwriter’s gift to be able to give expression to the feelings of others, whatever and wherever their lives may be.
Ahead of the release of the full album, Moakler took the decision to release songs in “pockets” – that is, in discrete batches of 3 songs at a time. It’s the kind of thing that more and more artists are doing lately, and it probably plays well to an audience used to picking up one or two new tracks rather than an entire album. With some albums, there are very deliberate track sequences as an artist looks to take the listener on some kind of “journey”. I’m not sure that’s necessarily the case with Blue Jeans, so the “pockets” release approach isn’t to the detriment of the full album.
Having said that I enjoyed listening to the album in full, from end to end. It’s well paced and it does kind of build its own “world” from track to track, even if there’s no direct narrative thread connecting through the album. The reward of the album is in spending the time inside its stories, and stepping into a little of the life of the man who wrote them.
In a week of major releases from Little Big Town and Dustin Lynch, it would be a pity if Blue Jeans were to be lost in the crowd. It deserves much better than that. Where some albums are all sequins and rhinestones over a carefully built facade, Blue Jeans takes a different tack. As he says in the title track, “Nothing fancy going on here | It’s just what you see | Tried and true to you like a pair of blue jeans”. In fact, Blue Jeans is the perfect title and the perfect image for this album – it’s real, recognisable, relatable, something you can equally relax in or have fun in. It would be great to see Steve Moakler over in the UK, he would go down an absolute storm with the audiences over here who receive Keith Urban, Kip Moore and such in raptures. In the meantime, put your Blue Jeans on and spend the time with a top quality songwriter and storyteller in his prime.
Stream or buy Blue Jeans here -> https://stem.ffm.to/blue_jeans
- Blue Jeans
- One On The Way
- How Have We Never
- Good Years
- The Picture
- ’72 Winnebago
- Every Girl
- When You Could Still Remember
’72 Winnebago, How Have We Never, The Picture
Six Shooter Rating
8.5 out of 10