Especially considering the low cost and high quality of digital recording platforms, it has become incredibly easy for every aspiring musician to make the album of their dreams. My intention is not to disparage or downplay any artist’s talent or creative aspirations, I’m just saying that it’s cheap and easy to make a record in the twenty-first century; the thing that isn’t so easy to do is pursue a dream, showcase talent, illustrate that other musicians are willing to endorse that talent by making a cameo appearance, pressing that music you’ve recorded onto the most time-honored and costly format that’s currently available in the marketplace AND THEN see a record label pick it up and agree to release it, as-is. When all of those elements are in place, that level of unspoken belief is when you really know you’re onto something, and they’re all lined up and locked down perfectly on Steven Bradley’s debut album, Summer Bliss and Autumn Tears.
Even within the opening moments of “Love Tumbles Into Obsession” – the opening cut on the A-side of Summer Bliss and Autumn Tears – all of the elements which are sure to make a classic album in the tradition of bands like Barenaked Ladies and Ben Folds (both with and without the Five) are set solidly in place. Right away, Bradley’s obviously precious lyric sheets shine brightly (“I’m gonna double down, if it’s all the same/ While I concern myself with thoughts/ That you don’t care to entertain/ I’m not sure if I should commit to my intentions/ Sometimes one person’s commitment/ Is another person’s obsession”) and presented with an understated pride akin to Ben Folds but backed by a rockier form close to Barenaked Ladies than anything else. In many ways, that novelty is the thing that gets the song over at first; the instantly literate lyrics hold any listener who loves stanzas filled with three-syllables-or-more words engaged and the instrumental performance is lush enough that anyone could lose themselves in it, but listeners will find that the first song only sets the stage for what follows it, and the other cuts only prove to yeild even greater delights.
After “Love Tumbles Into Obsession” lets out and leaves listeners’ palettes wet for the brand of vintage college rock it embodies, Bradley only deepens the plot as the record progresses. Kevin Kane (previously from Northern Pikes) walks in and offers his first guitar contribution to “Walk On By” before tossing the six-string baton to none other than MC5’s Wayne Kramer for”Pre-Emptive Strike” (which is really good, but not the guitarist’s best performance on this album) and then turning in one of the best (if not THE best) political cuts to be released since Donald Trump took office with “Capitol Hill” before admitting happily that there’s just no turning back with “Can’t Come Home” (where the singer admits that he “tried living sacrosanct, but the world had other plans”) to close the side.
At every turn along the way through the A-side of Summer Bliss and Autumn Tears, Steven Bradley proves that fine songwriting is the best bridge between new ideas and classic musicianship but, on the album’s B-side, because everything is already primed and set, the singer illustrates that the greatest points of interest above all else are the songs. Particular standouts including “Calendar Girl,” the album’s title track and “Loose Ends” (which features not just Kramer’s best performance on the album, but his best performance in decades) all showcase a talent that it feels criminal to have gone unnoticed to date but, happily, each of the cuts included are so fine that they ensure listeners will return repeatedly for second, third and fourth plays through, and more.
In the end, yes – running front to back illustrates that Summer Bliss and Autumn Tears proves that the album was a pet project and a dream endeavor for Steven Bradley, but it proves to be more than that too. It illustrates that living one’s dreams is possible, but it also proves that – in this day and age (where it seems as though so many musical rocks have already been kicked over) – it is still possible to find a real and untapped well of talent. Because it was made by the artist to fulfill a dream, it is possible that Summer Bliss and Autumn Tears may be the only album we hear from Steven Bradley – but even one play through will have listeners hoping there may be more to hear from this artist.
The Summer Bliss and Autumn Tears LP is out now. Buy it here, directly from Porterhouse Records. http://porterhouserecords.com/store/stevenBradley/summerbliss.html