Not long ago, I was sipping a pint of real ale in a Liverpool pub called the Cavern, when-upon I was introduced to a musician called Steven Wilson. No, not that one: this Steven Wilson is a superb musical artist who works under the nom de rock of Plasticsoul. Brilliant guy, great music. But not the man who led/leads Porcupine Tree and oversees remixes of classic albums.
I get it: there are only so many names out there, and it’s inevitable that some confusing overlap will eventually occur. Just ask Nancy Wilson (jazz singer? Heart guitarist?). Or, for that matter, Bill Kopp (L.A.-based animator, or author of the words you’re reading right now?).
Or Arthur Alexander. Born in 1940, the country-soul giant counted the Beatles as major fans of his work; they included many of his songs in their repertoire, including “Anna,” “Soldier of Love” and “A Shot of Rhythm and Blues.” His biggest hit, “You Better Move On” has been covered by a wide assortment of artists including the Hollies and Rolling Stones. His name is the answer to the trivia question, “Who is the only songwriter covered by Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan?” Alexander passed away in 1993.
This review is not about music from him.
This Arthur Alexander is a founding member of Sorrows, the NYC-based pop group. Before that, he led another power pop outfit, the equal parts obscure and legendary Poppees. He released a solo set, One Bar Left in 2018, and now Alexander has joined the stable of excellent artists at Big Stir Records. Steppin’ Out! is his latest.
The album charges out of the speakers with “Woman,” a high-powered, insistent rocker. Tight vocal harmonies, a grab-you-by-the-throat drum foundation and a roaring electric guitar solo all add up to a statement: I’m here to rock. After a bit of studio chatter, “It’s Not Love Anymore #2” presents a jangling, moody tune. Spooky keyboards adorn the arrangement, which deftly balances melody and a wide-screen rocking-out aesthetic. The twangy, sonorous guitar figure that decorates “(She’s a) Red Hot Lover” is just one of that tune’s virtues.
“One Life (is all You Got)” is built upon a handful of perhaps too-familiar riffs and melodic lines, but considered on its own, it’s a sturdy tune. “Oh Lulu, Won’t You Be My Girl” is as out of place on Steppin’ Out as “Honey Pie” is on the White Album (kazoo? Okayyy…) but it’s well executed nonetheless. “Why Can’t You Come” expertly combines a glam-rock vibe with indie sensibility. The chirpy vocal harmonies on the zippy “I Need You” are reminiscent of Jeff Lynne leaning into the retro-nostalgic side of his persona; the slide guitar solo is catchy.
A sweetly folk character informs “Humming Blues in Four.” Alexander slows down for a bit of melancholy on the lovely “Silver Cloud.” And his ear candy predilections make themselves known on the irresistible “Fly Away.” Somewhat strangely, Alexander ends the album with an alternate, instrumental mix of that song, re-titled as “Flying Shadows.” There’s nothing wrong with it, but it does feel a bit unnecessary.
My only potential criticism of Steppin’ Out! is this: I could be wrong – and will happily issue a correction if I’m authoritatively informed otherwise – but I detect the faintest whiff of Autotune on the vocals here and there. But for fans of melodic powerpop, Alexander’s latest is well worth hearing.