You’ve listened to his music and watch him play a number of roles on television, but Steven Van Zandt aka Little Steven is back with his first solo album in over a decade. The album, Soulfire, pulls into the station with 12 songs at 57-minutes. Some songs are new, and some are rethought variants of original versions. It is hard to pick one genre, you have some heavy hitting horns on one track and then a track that could fall under doo-wop.
Put simply, similar to Steven Van Zandt, Soulfire moves across genres and depicts the sound of the early music scene on the Jersey Shore. And this makes sense as this where he got his start and has helped to form other artists. In fact, he has produced much of Southside Johnny’s work and rethinks some tracks he wrote for them. Just after The River Tour wrapped up in the early Fall of last year, Little Steven got to recording with his Disciples of Soul band.
The album kicks off with the self-titled Soulfire, which packs a punch right out fo the gate. Opening with a sleek guitar solo and then his rocking vocals kick in leading the drums which are not too far behind. The song strikes song and speaks of his coming back, with a burning Soulfire. Backing vocals complete a well-rounded track and full album, to say the least.
If you are looking for a core Jersey Soul sound, the track I’m coming back is both familiar and refreshed. It originally appeared on a Southside Johnny album, but it speaks very clearly with the lyrics “I’m coming back baby, back for what’s mine.” The mixture of genres continues with a heavy blues and jazzy track; Blues is my Business. You get a set of backing vocals that make the message clear and an excellent of instrumentals from the band.
I Saw the Light was originally written for Richie Sambora & Orianthi, although Steven Van Zandt never finished it, but came back to it for Soulfire. It is certainly a fast-paced tune but has a nice message of making it through something. I feel like this song would be great to hear live and no doubt it will make appearances with the upcoming tour. Southside Johnny’s Somethings Just Don’t Change is updated to a more slowed down Motown format. There is a piece of Bruce Springsteen, as he co-wrote Love On The Wrong Side Of Town with Little Steven for Southside Johnny. This track did not get changed up too much and for a good reason, as it works quite nicely.
Doo-wop gets thrown into Soulfire with The City Weeps Tonight, complete with soothing vocals serving as the introduction and throughout the track. This is certainly a throwback to 60’s Doo-wop but you heavy influence from r-and-b here as well. After this track, you get a jazzy Down and Out in New York City that has some mystique to it.
Standing in the Line of Fire enters with a rousing western-like drum and guitar introduction, which is a rethinking of this Gary U.S. Bonds track. The original variant of the song certainly stood on its own as well, but this rethinking extends the track time and allows for a lot of solo opportunities for the musicians. The rocking Saint Valentines Day was originally given to those who pre-ordered the track and provides some love on the record.
And of course, Steven Van Zandt had to include I Don’t Want To Go Home on Soulfire, it serves it purpose and is another favorite of mine from the album. This is an accurate time traveling experience into the original sound of the Jersey Shore, a mixture of a soul with Rock’N Roll and it is fantastic. The album closes out with Ride The Night Away which provides a nice closing note for leaving the listener with.
Soulfire was worth the wait, and I only wish it was released sooner. It is an amalgam of soul, blues, and rock with a richly layered lush sound– One that can only be described as soothing. It is a uniquely Jersey, specifically Jersey Shore, a sound that stays true to Steven Van Zandt’s roots. His many years of work with top bands and as the role of producer several times shines through. Little Steven’s Soulfire is out now from traditional outlets and is available on streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify.