MY TOP FIVE BOBBY STEEL VOCAL PERFORMANCES IN ELM TREASON
by Andy Roman
One of the things that helps shape the so-called “Elm Treason sound” is the contrasting textures and timbres in our voices. My voice is deeper and more “throaty” than my partner’s, and our styles of singing are as disparate as night and day.
But it works. VERY well.
Mostly every song we’ve recorded features both of our voices working in unison in someway – harmonizing, double-tracking, singing octaves, counterpoints, so on. There are some songs that feature rather complex vocal layering; Others are simply sweetened by the inclusion of a second or third or fourth voice strategically placed.
Bobby’s vocal range goes to places mine can only sing about. I dig his voice very much.
I’d like to take a moment or two to remove my Elm Treason hat for just a few shakes, and try to replace it with the chapeau of a fan looking in, sharing what I think are five of Bobby’s best vocal performances.
In no particular order…
MADISON PARK – We took a song that has been through myriad incarnations, added some horns and a Motown vibe, and let Bobby loose. I think the pocket he rides on this recording is as good as any in the Elm Treason canon. I always envisioned this song as a kind of party song. Unfortunately, I could never quite get it to the point of translating how I heard it in my head when I was trying to sing it. Bobby, on the other hand, nailed it. Very upbeat. A great performance.
ANOTHER YEAR GONE – Those falsettos. Those delicious high notes. Man, they are so good. So the story goes – and yes, it’s true – Bobby said he wanted to sing this one like “angry Bee Gees.” It’s one of my favorite Elm Treason stories. “Angry Bee Gees.” You can’t make up something that cool. Yes, we both sing multiple parts on this one, but Bobby’s high notes soar on this recording. It absolutely makes the song. To my ears and mind, absolute perfection.
FIREFLY – The exquisite simplicity of this song, and the straight-forward way Bobby delivers his vocals, is what makes this one so magnificent to me. This tune, created by Bobby as a lullaby for his kids, is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. There is some thing so touching and so moving about Bobby‘s vocal performance here. It is very intimate, vulnerable, real. The texture of his voice is impeccable.
FORT MISERY – This may be my favorite Elm Treason recording. Certainly, it’s among the best we’ve ever done. It’s one of those tunes were Bobby and I alternate verses. I love when we do that. Of course, we have to be clever about it, because our voices are living in different neighborhoods. In this song, we change keys with each verse, not unlike Johnny Cash does in “Walk the Line.” Bobby takes the second and fourth verses. This is some of his best vocal work, because it is so relaxed, so much fun, so loose. It perfectly captures his easy-going nature. The words are ridiculously silly, sort of like mid 60s Bob Dylan shuffling through a roadhouse off route 66 somewhere. But until the day I die, I will always get a little chill down my spine listening to how Bobby sings the final words of the fourth verse: “Now he sells cheap thrills to the boys and the girls of Fort Misery…” That roll of the tongue on the word “thrills,” and the way he delivers it. Aural ambrosia!
HOME ALONE BLUES – This, to me, is one of Elm Treason’s hidden gems. It’s a song about breaking free from the chains of pain and isolation. The song has a kind of dark feel during the verses (even though it is actually a very positive song – and it isn’t a blues song at all), but during the chorus, it almost soars, shifting from minor to major chords. Bobby‘s voice in this song is so perfectly matched to the vibe in such a way that the music seems to be following his lead. The range and expressiveness is incredible. It’s one of those songs that doesn’t get a lot of mention publicly among Elm Treason fans, but it is easily one of my favorite songs we ever recorded and one of my favorite performances of his…
HONORABLE MENTION – I’m going to add an extra one here… and the only reason it wears the tag “honorable mention” is because it’s a track that was included as a bonus disc for those who initially bought “The Voice of Treason” album during its original release – a three song collection we call “E Pluribus Ulmus.” These are songs that did not make the original album, not because we didn’t love them or think they were good enough to make the cut, but because we only had so much room to work with when printing the vinyl version of the record. It’s sad, because those three songs, in our opinions, are just as good as the album tracks. One of the songs off this bonus disc is, in my opinion, Bobby‘s best all-time performance in Elm Treason. Yes, I think it’s his best. “Engine Nine Blues.” Mr. Steel hit it out of the park. He’d have had a 20 year old Robert Plant saying, “Good stuff, lad. Let me borrow a lick…” His range is astounding. The tone and feel of his delivery is magnificent – a very late 60s bluesy vibe. In terms of Bobby steel vocals, it simply does not get any better.