Steve Warner is an Australian musician-singer-songwriter who, back in 1979, recorded, produced, mixed and manufactured his eponymous LP. Not quite single-handedly as this sounds though, for it was funded by the combination of a bank loan and a council grant, and Steve also received a measure of assistance from Australian engineer Nick Armstrong, who had six years earlier recorded, at his legendary Spectangle Studios, Howard Eynon’s acid-folk LP So What If I’m Standing in Apricot Jam (which has just been re-released by Earth Recordings – Folk Radio UK Review here).
Steve Warner’s album is a proud, confident product: being less of a rounded, conscious artistic statement per se than an honest, if perhaps knowingly and unashamedly wilful (thus occasionally idiosyncratic) reflection-cum-expression of Steve’s formative teenage musical experiences, influences and inspirations. Steve’s “childhood lost in endless days and nights obsessing over the process of making music, layering compositions and arranging on his own reel-to-reel tape machine” is replicated by the determinedly self-made, and awesomely accomplished, one-man show of this LP, which (as far as I know) constitutes Steve’s only recorded output. Even though it’s self-evidently a cleverly multitracked and very capably arranged DIY product, it comes across vividly as a courage-of-his-convictions/labour-of-love and not in any way a showing-off/vanity exercise.
The album boasts a bewildering diversity of styles, from the opening piano-backed pop-psych-style Summer (which, like the later Fireflies, is to my mind heavily reminiscent of some of Rick Wright’s early-Pink-Floyd numbers) and the dreamily orchestrated We’ll Go On to the early-Incredible String Band-cum-Hunky-Dory-Bowie feel of Poems In Your Eyes and the gently trippy Donovan-like Lightning Over The Meadow with its tinkling glockenspiel and Moody Blues-flute solo. A cowbell-ridden intro ushers in the post-hippy whimsy of Hey, Hosanna (of whose gorgeously sinuous melody Stackridge would’ve been proud!), while the balmy pastoral of Cement River closes the album in a memorably appealing mood of deep romantic reverie. Along the way, the disc also sports an impressive array of instrumental tracks (presented in two “mini-sequences”) that (for all that they’re often unimaginatively titled!) range uncommonly widely – from A Boogie, a gleeful (and somewhat Mike Oldfield) 12-bar extravaganza that must’ve been great fun recording, to Momento, a Satie-inspired piano étude, via Untitled, a delicate, folksy guitar meditation in the manner of Michael Chapman, Andy Roberts or John Fahey, via the impressionistic (à-la-Eno) tone-poem Rainfall, the cheeky raggy, clappy romp Charlton and the dashingly madcap, almost Goonish Neil Innes-style piano toon Crisp Morning.
What on first acquaintance may appear a wayward patchwork and diversity turns out on repeated exposure to be no less than a binding thread of personal experience and taste that I can readily warm to and thoroughly identify with. It may initially feel a trifle inward-looking and even mildly self-indulgent, but hell, this is the kind of album I might’ve wanted to make myself if I had even a modicum of the talent with which Steve is clearly blessed. It’s full of the kind of lovingly conceived musical experimentation that I can well audio-visualise in my mind’s eye but am (sadly) entirely unable to realise in practical terms. Interestingly, and contrastingly, a recent quote from Steve himself reveals his own tendency to dream about music in a very abstract sense, with its tension and release found in the grey zone between sleeping and waking. Either way, this album is genuinely therapeutic, and a brilliant achievement; I’m so glad to have made its acquaintance.
Review by: David Kidman
Available on LP / Digital
Via Earth Recordings
Order it here: www.earthvinyl.com