Sandy Bull Steel Tears / Endventions & Tributes
- Released: April 13, 2018
- Originally Released: 2018
- Label: Omnivore Recordings
- 2.Long As We're Dreaming
- 3.Can I Get a Witness
- 4.Old Habits Like You
- 5.Love Is Forever
- 6.I Don't Care
- 7.It Should Be Easier Now
- 8.My Baby Left Me
- 9.Steel Tears
- 11.I May Never Pass Out
- 12.Nagra Sarod [Take 1]
- 14.Nagra Guitar [Take 1]
- 15.Strat 1
- 16.Love Is Forever - (featuring Matraca Berg / Mickey Raphael)
- 17.I May Never Pass Out - (featuring Jeff Hanna / Kevin Welch)
- 18.Jesse James Jam
- 19.Sandy's Last Word
Personnel: Sandy Bull (vocals).
Audio Mixer: Sandy Bull.
Liner Note Authors: Joe Hagan; Jackson Bull.
Recording information: Strip Center Sound, Franklin, TN.
Photographers: Tony Kent; Sandy Bull.
Steel Tears was the seventh and final album multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Sandy Bull issued during his lifetime and his only vocal album. It was originally released in 1996, the same year he underwent his first surgical procedure to treat the lung cancer that would kill him in 2001. Omnivore's reissue includes four previously unissued bonus cuts from the original recording sessions and three "tributes" by his Nashville pals (where he lived during the last decade of his life) who include Jeff Hanna, Mickey Raphael, and Matraca Berg, among others. These latter tracks are assembled under the subtitle "Endventions & Tributes."
Bull loved country music as much as any genre he applied himself to. The reason for singing was simple: Country songs usually need vocals. But Steel Tears is no ordinary country record as much as 1969's E Pluribus Unum is no standard folk recording. One need listen no further than the set's opening track -- "Arabalabama" -- for evidence. Bull is backed by Jerry Douglas on dobro, Eric Shouse on fiddle, and Harry Stinson on drums. Alongside his flatpicked electric bluegrass and punky banjo are shifting rhythms that directly reference early Sugarhill Gang records. He follows it by offering a straight honky tonk cover of "Long as We're Dreaming" (the George Jones/Melba Montgomery hit) in duet with Ginger Grosney. The whining of Bull's pedal steel against his barroom piano is evocative of an earlier, simpler time. He was also hip to Nashville's once-burgeoning R&B scene, which he pays homage to in covering Holland-Dozier-Holland's Motown classic "Can I Get a Witness" complete with horns and chorus vocals from Kevin Welch and Sam Phillips. "Love Is Forever" -- on which he plays everything but drums (Stinson) -- began life as an oud tune inspired by Barry White. It's arguably the finest track here. Other highlights include the honky tonk ballad "I Don't Care," penned by Cindy Walker and Webb Pierce and Willie Nelson's "It Should Be Easier Now." Bull's singing voice is an acquired taste; it's grainy, thin, and reedy; occasionally it's off-key. But those vocals are simply another instrument in his mix: Check the closing-time country waltz in the title track, as Bull's steel mirrors and supports his singing. From the bonus material, fans will delight in the guitar instrumentals including "Rhumba," a Cuban-cum-country jam with killer guitars, piano, and programming. It goes on for nearly 14 minutes. Also notable for the same reasons are the two brief sketches entitled "Nagra Sarod (Take 1)," and "Nagra Guitar (Take 1)" that recall his earlier career explorations. Steel Tears is not Bull's finest recording, but it is one that holds within it more than a little of the magic that drew listeners to his Vanguard Records material; it should be considered essential for hardcore devotees. Alongside the music are rare photographs and an excellent liner essay by Joe Hagan. ~ Thom Jurek
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