Steve Hartsoe “King of Small Talk”

Independent, 2022

Steve Hartsoe delivers another set of hard-driving, guitar-led Americana roots rock.

Steve Hartsoe is a relatively unfamiliar name despite this being his sixth outing on record, a full album, several EPs and an album released under the name of his indie rock band, London Town. which plays around the San Francisco Bay area of California.  This album continues in the vein of his previous records -jangly, gutsy guitar sounds with fiery solos (mostly by Hartsoe himself) and some upfront drumming from his son Eli.  There are some nice keyboard sounds floating along behind two or three of the songs, some nice bass lines and most choruses are catchy and often enhanced by some fine background vocals, on ‘Canyon Song‘ for example. Various friends and band members add nice guitar and bass.  His voice is punchy with a little bit of gruff, which is interesting because he re-recorded the aforementioned ‘Canyon Song’ from an earlier version because he thought the original vocal was too… gruff.  This song and ‘Ocracoke‘, both former single releases are the pick of the bunch of songs, eight in total on this extended EP.

The album was borne out of the pandemic and Hartsoe’s reaction to his and the country’s unpreparedness for it. His previous EP ‘Gaslighted‘ in August 2020 was his first response to it and featured ‘Canyon Song‘ before he re-recorded it.

The title track of the new album arose after an unwanted but ultimately interesting meeting with a stranger when he was watching trains with his son, avoiding people as best he could.  “Every side-eye grin cuts me deep within I’m your King of small talk”.  ‘Canyon Song’ reflects a longing to disappear into the solitude of the canyons behind Malibu.  ‘Your time now’ is about a woman finally chasing her dreams and ‘Ocracoke’ is a charming song about an island off the North Carolina coast famous for shelling and its susceptibility to cyclones.  “Blue coquina shells surround the doors, Faded walls in paint say welcome home” and “Hurricanes and floods and ferry boats Tourists, fascists and artists they roam Highway 12 is split beneath the foam Lighthouse rises with life and hope’”.

Hartsoe hails from California where his indie band mostly play, but this album was recorded in a number of homes in North Carolina, Nashville and San Jose, mixed and engineered by Kevin McNoldy who provided the atmospheric keyboards mentioned above.

This is a good addition to the Hartsoe canon. There are those who liken Hartsoe to Tom Petty or Son Volt (especially with the twelve-string guitar sounds) but a closer comparison might be Will Hoge.  Hartsoe isn’t quite the songwriter that Hoge is, indeed some of the songs are rather short, but the choruses and fine playing make you forget that and you end up with a nice set that has a true Americana vibe. He’s sure to be great live.


About FredArnold 60 Articles
Lifelong fan of predominantly US (and Canadian) country roots music. Previously an avid concert-goer before wives, kids and dogs got in the way- and although I still try to get to several, my preference for small independent venues often means standing, and that ain't too good for my ancient bones!! Still, a healthy and catholic music collection helps ease the pain
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