Home Hear Steve Poltz Takes Freewheeling Flight With Stardust & Satellites

Steve Poltz Takes Freewheeling Flight With Stardust & Satellites

The troubadour channels Dylan, Snider, Browne & more on his charming new album.

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Veteran troubadour Steve Poltz stands head and shoulders above the crowd with his charming new album Stardust & Satellites — showcasing today on Tinnitist.

Produced by Oliver Wood and Jano Rix of The Wood Brothers, Stardust & Satellites is Poltz’s 14th solo album, and comprises another exuberant, thoughtful batch of songs that celebrate life in all of its stages. It’s an album dealing with loss (he’s lost both parent’s in the past two years), simple joys and childhood memories — summer baseball games, a stint he did with Up With People, and more. The results fall somewhere between Todd Snider, Jackson Brown, Paul Simon and a playful young Bob Dylan.

“I just make stuff up,” he exclaims, quipping, “it sounded good to say that.” Steve is the sort of prolific writer and collaborator who downplays what seems like a non-stop geyser of creativity. “I have no rhyme or reason for what I do. It’s all magic. I go by instinct. It just felt right, so I went with it.”

The “it” in question is one of those serendipitous situations that were created by the pandemic. Steve, a road dog and performance junkie who regularly spends 300+ days a year on tour, bringing it to the people, should’ve been on tour last year. Esteemed Nashville roots rockers The Wood Brothers (Chris Wood being a former neighbour), also should’ve been on tour. Stuck in Nashville, Steve often joined the Brothers for outdoor socially distant hangs, and, on a whim, decided to record one song with Oliver Wood and Jano Rix.

 

Photo by Michael Weintrob.

They cut Frenemy, a wistful, “keep your friends close and your enemies even closer” song that made it clear to all involved that they’d stumbled on to something special. With no studio clock ticking, no schedule or deadlines to meet, the companionship and ability to collaborate with like-minded musicians added a joyful diversion to what was a boring-ass year. Musically, the sky was the limit, and the group of musicians and friends embarked on a musical experience that found cast and crew reaching toward the stratosphere with Stardust & Satellites, which Wood and Rix produced.

The album begins with the lithe fingerpicking of Wrong Town, an anthem summing up the life of an itinerant songwriter/performer, where he declares, “The truth is I have no plan at all,” going on to cite Emmylou Harris and Don Was as his style icons. It’s a “pleased to meet me” sort of song, and it was written to greet the audience at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2019. “I wanted to write an opening song,” Steve recalls.“I sat down with fellow Nashville songwriter Anthony da Costa, and Wrong Town just appeared.”

But even gonzo guys have their moments where the cycle of life seems to be almost too much to bear. Conveyor Belt is a heartfelt song, a song that could only be written at a certain point in one’s life, and that point is when you’re saying goodbye to your parents and addressing your own mortality. Steve explains, “My mom passed away, and then a few years later my dad crossed over. I started thinking that I was next on the conveyor belt in a factory on the wheel of time. Next thing I know, I grabbed my guitar and this song appeared to me like a gift. It didn’t exist and then voila, there it was. I feel lucky to be a conduit.” The song is written over a gentle, repetitive melody that moves along with the inevitability of ye old sands of time. For fans, it’s a different side of Steve, using a voice and a new solemnity for a song that touches a universal nerve.

On one of the last nights of the recording sessions, Steve locked himself up in his writing room and within an hour, had conjured the catchy, effervescent Can O’ Pop, destined to be a single. “Jano was leaving the studio, and I asked him to give me a beat, and I told him I’d write a song with the beat he gave me,” recalls Steve. The exuberant, syncopated groove seems to bubble up as Steve admits, in his best mid-period Dylan, “I want to feel the fizzy rhythm with you. Hey, everyone loves a can of pop.”

With a cult following that includes fellow musicians, regular folks and festival goers who stumble onto his performances, there’s no common denominator to Steve’s fans. Born in Halifax and raised in San Diego, Steve toured and recorded with cult favorites The Rugburns (they still play sold-out reunion shows). But it was through his creative partnership with Jewel that he vaulted into the national spotlight; co-writing her multiplatinum smash You Were Meant For Me, and continues to work with her to this day.

Over the years, the Nashville troubadour has built a fascinating solo catalog, earmarked by his debut, One Left Shoe, Dreamhouse, Folk Singer and 2019’s Shine On. Among other collaborations, Grammy-winning bluegrass phenom Billy Strings tapped him to co-write Leaders on 2021’s Renewal and he’s co-written with Molly Tuttle, Sierra Hull, Nicki Bluhm and even Mojo Nixon. He’s resumed his tour schedule, and when he comes to your town, he’ll say, as he does every night, “This is the best show I’ve ever played.” And hell, maybe it just is.

Listen to Stardust And Satellites below, watch the video for Can O’Pop above, and find Steve Poltz at his website, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Photo by Michael Weintrob.