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Steve Poltz

Shine On – 2019 (Red House)

Reviewed by Henry L. Carrigan Jr.

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CDs by Steve Poltz

Canadian-born songwriter and singer Poltz lived most of his life in San Diego, but moved to Nashville a couple of years ago at the urging of his girlfriend, Sharon. Once he arrived in Music City, he found a circle of like-minded musicians, among them the estimable guitarist, songwriter, and producer Will Kimbrough, who produced the album. Poltz has always had a way with a clever phrase and a tongue-in-cheek lyric, and those are on clear display here, winding their ways through his songs. What's also on display is Poltz's attempts to find the light in the darkness surrounding us these days - mass shootings, church bombings, suicide bombings in buses - with the theme of shining hope running through.

The opening title track echoes mournfully in the spare interplay between guitar and piano, and Poltz's laconic - almost languid - vocals belie the vivid brilliance of the lyrics. Yet, the bareness of the song mimics its simple hope and the encouragement it provides us: "Feel the feel/Taste what's real/Jump in the ocean/And bark like a seal/Reach for the sky/Smile at a stranger/Let the tears fly/Celebrate peace/Don't pick fights/Communicate love/Turn on your light/Shine on."

On the Beatlesesque "Pharmacist," a fun little take on falling in love with the person dispensing your prescription - "And you can tell me that my prescription is only for my lower lumbar.../And could I have your number?" - harmonica and guitar snake around each other as Poltz's vocals soar on the chorus. Straight-ahead rocker "Ballin' on Wednesday" asks why wait until the weekend when "I left the dog at the sitter's/You got a sitter for your kids," and "I'm hump day DJ." The refrain of Tom T. Hall's "I Love You, Too" flows underneath "4th of July," which Poltz wrote with Molly Tuttle, a gorgeous little ballad fueled by mandolin and guitar. "All Things Shine" is the bookend to the album's opener, and title track, and opens brightly with a George Harrison-like lead lick and a persistent, driving rhythm guitar riff that fuels the entire song. The brightness of the music belies the dark moments that flit like shadows across our lives - "A man gets on a bus/With a bomb in the vest.../The world's stepped over the line/No warning no sign, it's gonna take some time." In the last line of the chorus, though, Poltz returns to the theme he's announced in the title track: there's a little spark in all of us, and we need to find it and let it shine - "but all things shine, all things shine."

"Shine On" lights our paths with sparkling tunes whose brightness fills us with joy and hope.