Steve Forbert – The Magic Tree and His Memoir

I was first amazed by Steve Forbert when he strode barefoot onstage when I was head of the concert committee at college. I don’t really recall if he was the opener or the headliner. In that his first album had just been released, I assume he was the support act. The fact that I can’t recall the rest of the show is a reflection of how much I have enjoyed Forbert’s music all these many many decades later.

His latest release is The Magic Tree, and it is a solid reaffirmation of what makes him such an overlooked gem. His voice remains evocative and compelling, wrapping around his wry lyrics like a warm glove on a crisp fall day. The instrumentation is a vintage and unique blend of folk, Americana and rock. When his harmonica comes sliding in after a chorus, you want to be driving along a smooth road somewhere, where the horizon is inviting and time has slowed down.

“Movin’ Through America” is exactly that feeling. Forbert namechecks a few stops along the way, but the pull of the road keeps him in motion. Two versions of the title song are mysteriously evocative. Each of the dozen songs are penned by Forbert, except for the penultimate “Only You (And Nobody Else)” which pulls from Robert Johnson’s earlier work. “That’d be Alright” has been released as the new album’s first single, check it out here.

Forbert set out 40 years ago from his hometown in Mississippi. He landed in NYC, and was soon opening for burgeoning bands like the Talking Heads and The Shirts. “Romeo’s Tune” and “Going Down to Laurel” signaled a new voice had arrived. Over the course of 18 albums, marriage, divorce, raising three kids and a recent health scare his perspective evolved.

Forbert will release Big City Cat: My Life in Folk Rock next month, and I look forward to reading his chronicles. The new album acts as a sort of parallel soundtrack. The songs evolved from prior demos and previously recorded acoustic renderings. Production by Karl Derfler (who spun the dials for Tom Waits and No Doubt) is sterling. The recordings were made back home in Meridian, as well as in Nashville, NYC, New Jersey and Virginia. Forbert’s peripatetic nature results in an eclectic set of backing musicians, each of whom adds great flavors.

Forbert is currently working through a lengthy tour, and I can’t wait to see him again, barefoot or otherwise.


Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.