Sound: To fully review a Seasick Steve album with the sound in mind is always going to be controversial because Steve's albums are usually produced by himself and kept simple with an almost straight to tape sound. The guitar, banjo, drums and cigar box guitar always sound dirty, grungy and distorted, but the problem is that's the way a blues album is supposed to sound, greats such as Elmore James purposefully damaged their own amps to make them sound distorted!
No doubt that Steve could make a great album with more time devoted to production, Steve has rated emotion, honesty and authenticity more than over-development, effects and cleaness. Besides nowadays most blues album, aswell as some southern rock albums, are slated for being over-produced. With just Steve, his drummer Dan Magnusson and John Paul Jones together the album's sound has an edge to it, or as Steve says in the title track ("You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks"), "I may not be perfect but I'm me to the bone!". The acoustic sounds deep and intense on songs such as "Treasures" and "Underneath A Blue And Cloudless Sky" whereas songs such as "Don't Know Why She Love Me But She Do" and "Back In The Doghouse" have the guitar and drums linked up so well that they sound more like hard rock songs. Then songs such as "Burnin Up" have a more intense, atmospheric, cool vibe (similar to "Big Green And Yeller" from Steve's album "Man From Another Time") with slow guitar playing, gentle drumming and a domineering Bass. Steve's voice still sounds rock solid and if anything has improved with age, showcased on such songs as "What A Way To Go" and "Underneath A Blue And Cloudless Sky". // 9
Lyrics: As usual Steve favours honest, deep, mournful, sad lyrics but also good time and sometimes funny lyrics. Some songs have sad, mournful lyrics such as "Treasures" and "Underneath A Blue And Cloudless Sky", in particular Cloudless Sky is about a man who can't offer his wife the world, only what he has, with lyrics like "I love you so much it hurts, I'll be there when your hair turns grey", all sung to a mournful wail, muck like old Irish folk songs. But Steve still knows how to storm a barn with great blues-rocks songs such as "You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks", a song were Steve says he doesn't have to change anything about his style, while at the same time quietly putting himself down with lyrics such as "Tired of his old and boring blues shit!". "back In The Doghouse" is a callback to the classic "Doghouse Blues", song while "Don't Know Why You Love Me" is a tribute to Steve's wife Elisabeth, saying she was smart in school, she'd his gold mine etc. Remember Steve once released an album called "Songs For Elisabeth" on Valentines Day for his wife! The song "Whiskey Ballad" is somewhat of a comedy song telling people to not worry about their problems and start drinking whiskey, this would garner contoversy as it seems to glorify alcahol, although it does feature lyrics saying that alcohol doesnt't solve your problems, however this would seem irrelevant since Steve didn't actually write the song. "Party" and "What A Way To Go" are somewhat let downs on the lyrics front, "Party" contains rather obvious "LETS PARTY" lyrics as opposed to his incredible deep lyrics on some acoustic songs. "What A Way To Go" contains an incredible wail at the start that makes the song, but the lyrics lazily list things a man does when he is retired. The best lyrics are on the very last song, "It's A Long Long Way" containing lyrics that seem to sum up Steve's life and ends with the ominous "Its a long long way, and I've been there before, and I don't think I'm going there no-more", which may imply this might be Steve's last album! // 7
Overall Impression: "You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks" is an odyssey of Seasick Steve's music, containing an epic 12 songs and a 14 minute monologue by Steve describing his early life. The deep, mournful ballads, the hard rock, fast paced songs and the odd gems of brilliance are all hear. Here is a list of the best songs on the album:
"You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks" - The albums best song and easily a future single, just watch, has Steve combine an edgy sound and seems to be a personal testament to his music.
"Burnin Up" - This song is just cool, with a Bass dominating the song and Steve's voice sounding more like a whisper, this is truely a stant-out song on the album.
"Don't Know Why She Love Me" - A love song for his wife, Steve has a brilliant slide playing song mixed with solid drumming to create a hard song that will get every listener hooked.
"Whiskey Ballad" - This song has great, funny lyrics mixed with a terrific rythym on acoustic guitar, the song has a "Love It/Hate It" feel but personally I loved to hear an uplifting song mixed with lyrics about alcahol.
"Back In The Doghouse" - Although it is a tribute to a different song, this song is fast - paced, electrifying and is probably the most feel good song on the album.
"It's A Long Long Way" - A folk song to inspire many, with Steve singing about his life, Gospel back - up singing and easy chord structure, this song is one of the best and one that will feature in Steve's setlist for any concert.
"Treasures" - A song that has truely deep, poetic lyrics and has the listener nearly crying and a minor chord structure, this song is the premium ballad song on the album.
The album starts unusually with "Treasures", a sad, deep song as opposed to most of his albums that start with fast-paced, rock songs. But soon the album kicks in with "You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks", to pick up the speed and follows it with a deep, cool song "Burnin Up". The album goes throughthe usual rock, blues, folk feel and ends with an uplifting folk song in "Long Long Way". At the end of the album there is a hidden track, a 12 minute monologue by Steve describing his early life, finally ending with Steve saying "Hoped you like my record". Steve likes to have authenticity and sincerity in his albums so what better way to end it with Steve talking directly to the listener. Personally this, to me, is Steve's best and definitive album containing all his traits and tricks but at their very best. Seasick Steve can hang is head up high with this album. A must-get for blues fans. // 8