Steve Poltz is getting more comfortable in Nashville. The former San Diego-based and Nova Scotia-born humorous folk singer made his Red House debut with the acclaimed 2019 Shine On, collaborating with Will Kimbrough. He now turns to Oliver Wood and Jano Rix of The Wood Brothers, collaborating on Stardust & Satellites.
The humble Poltz claims that he just stumbles into things, making it up as he goes. He takes chances like few others and seems to be increasingly more unconventional as he embraces Americana. He’s every bit the entertainer as he is a songwriter with the goal of putting smiles on people’s faces. A friend once said, “How can someone be that happy?” in describing Poltz who approached this project with the same happy-go-lucky stance as he did in 2019 with Kimbrough. Besides Wood on guitars and Rix on keyboards and percussion, Brook Sutton joins on bass. Poltz also has three female vocalists singing harmony on select tracks – Nicki Bluhm on “Frenemy,” Maya Di Vitri on “Miles in My Heart,” and Lindsay Lou on “Let’s Stay Together.” Poltz takes the title track alone.
It so happened that Poltz joined his neighbors, The Wood Brothers, for socially distanced outdoor hangs during the pandemic, deciding on a whim to cut “Frenemy” with Oliver and Jano Rix. Yes, Poltz deals in colloquialisms – “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” There are more examples of this as we’ll touch on later. The album begins with the nimble acoustic guitar picking in “Wrong Town,” about the journeyman troubadour, in which he declares “I have no plan at all,” cites Emmylou Harris and Don Was as his style icons, and unveils clever rhymes such as “I’m organic, don’t panic, I’m too scared to be satanic…I’m just here to sing for you.” The song, purposely written as an opener, was to greet the audience at The Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2019. It was co-written with Nashville songwriter Anthony da Costa.
The singalong “Conveyor Belt” touches the more serious subject of mortality, inspired by the deaths of his mom and dad, he contemplates that perhaps he is next on the conveyor belt in a factory on the wheel of time. He next emerges with the rapid-fire Dylanesque talking blues “Can O’ Pop,” imbued with classic Wood Brothers percussive backing, spawning the line, “I want to feel the fizzy rhythm with you.”
Given Poltz’s love of baseball, inevitably we’d find a song on that subject. He conveys his excitement for the sport in “It’s Baseball Season,” extolling the carefree nature of going to the ballpark, excerpting classic verses from “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” to emulating the late, great Detroit Tigers HOF announcer Ernie Harwell at the end. He uses the title of the corny song “Up with People” to deliver a humorous litany of experimenting with drugs from Quaaludes to pot being high on testosterone in high school. What might be off-limits to other writers, is perfectly okay with the unfettered Poltz.
The rhythmic style of the Wood Brothers drives the sarcastic “Lord Savior.” “Let’s Stay Together,” sung with Lindsay Lou, reminds one of his partnership with Jewel where he co-wrote her multi-platinum hit “You Were Meant For Me.” It’s a gentle, ostensibly serious song until Poltz jokes about needing permission from his love’s shotgun-bearing father who instead asks for a favor first – to go out get him whiskey, weed, and a dozen eggs. That’s vintage Poltz as is his return to the cliché’s we noted earlier, “like birds of a feather” in this case. He takes the upbeat “Miles in My heart” with the sweet-toned Myra Di Vitri. He closes with the title track, accompanied only by his guitar, ruminating on the transitory nature of life – “Stardust and satellites/We’re all made of moving parts/And broken hearts/And we’re all just floating.”
Most of us could use a healthy dose of Poltz’s life philosophy – find humor in the smallest things, don’t stress with too many plans, and don’t take ourselves too seriously. He puts these to a song like no other.