CD Review: Steve Poltz, “Dreamhouse”

Written by CD Reviews, Music

Michael Fortes reviews one of the year’s best new albums – a folk-pop masterpiece by veteran singer/songwriter and one-time Jewel collaborator Steve Poltz.

Steve Poltz "Dreamhouse"Those opening notes to the title track of Steve Poltz’s Dreamhouse, picked on a nylon string classical guitar, strike the air with a casually surprising joy that hooks like the irresistible electricity of a live performance. As I’ve been belatedly basking in the afterglow of Niño Josele’s Paz, while also harboring a deep love for witty yet tender folk-pop songwriting, the effect for me personally is greatly intensified.

Triple and quadruple takes are out of character for me – replaying songs isn’t something I normally like to do when I’m not specifically setting out to learn how to play a song on guitar or bass. And yet, “Dreamhouse” has been repeated in my own house so much that I’m glad I live alone so that I’m not annoying anyone half to death (if not fully).

But my own tendency to be annoyed by repeat plays fades away with Dreamhouse. There’s a warm, inviting sense of intimacy imbued in the eleven songs that make up the album, the result of an awesomely synergistic collaboration with Canadian producer Joel Plaskett. Recorded in Halifax, Nova Scotia – the place of Poltz’s birth and earliest residency before he moved to San Diego to spend his formative years – the album, ironically enough, exudes a strong California cool that’s very much in sync with much of the acoustic-based indie folk/pop/rock that’s coming out of L.A. and San Francisco these days (not to mention good ol’ Austin, Texas), albeit with more of a veteran’s approach to songcraft. After all, Poltz has been making music continuously since the 1980s, so by now he’s got his game down.

While Dreamhouse bears little resemblance to Poltz’s previous records, even within the album he manages to maintain a balanced variety of approaches to his songs, all with the acoustic guitar as their common thread – from the unabashed, pure country pop of “I Love What You’ve Done With This Place” and “License Plate Eyes,” to the humorous troubadour style of  “Killin’ Myself (To Be With You),” to the beautiful, peaceful, dual guitar instrumental “A Song For Kosovo.” And while “Wish The Wind” is probably the only song here that might be a little too cute, it still ends up becoming a grower, and it can hardly help but follow that path given what surrounds it.

The big, pleasant bonus surprise here is Poltz’s earnest cover of the old Barbra Streisand hit, “The Way We Were.” Stripped of the original’s more strongly dramatic approach, what’s left is a reflective tune that fits in so well with Poltz’s own songs, it comes off as if he wrote it himself.

Dreamhouse initially saw release earlier this year as a digital download. Thankfully it has been re-released on AJ Croce’s Seedling Records (with distribution by Sony/RED) on CD and vinyl. Now we can all hear what is, far and away, one of the year’s best new albums in a format that will more sympathetically reproduce the sound of the analog masters. It’s a fitting treatment for a record that is undoubtedly a folk-pop masterpiece.

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