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Release Date:
Mar 30, 2010

Reviewed by:
Shannon West

Could it finally be time for Steve Oliver to break through in a big way. He's been hovering on the edge of stardom since he first appeared on Steve Reid and Bamboo Forest's excellent but under-promoted Mysteries album in the late 90's. He toured with that band and created quite a buzz by the time his first solo CD, First View, was released in 1999. Positive Energy, the follow-up, seemed to be a breakthrough as the infectious single "High Noon" spent most of the year in the top 10 and garnered him a Smooth Jazz Awards nomination. 3-D followed but by then radio was backing away from new music and new artists and shoring up behind an increasingly rigid formula and this was not formula music. Radiant followed, again captivating an increasing number of ears but not those of the radio gatekeepers. The CD/DVD set One Night Live served as both a first-decade retrospective and a chance for people to see what Oliver could do onstage with his voice, guitar, and a percussionist. It was a jaw dropping reaffirmation of the original question - why is this guy not a star? The answer is undoubtedly that he is too original and exciting to get exposure via traditional channels because the gateway to all those channels was airplay and smooth and relaxing gets airplay, not original and exciting.  Now the rules have changed. The radio format crumbled under the burden of its own rigid criteria.  A plethora of brunch shows, internet radio stations, and noncommercial stations have jumped in to fill the gap and they want interesting, compelling, music that will perk up their listeners' ears. So here is Global Kiss, with Steve Oliver both refining and expanding his trademark sound, delivered into the hands of media people who can play the music that excites them. It's time!

Global Kiss is Oliver's first studio album since Radiant was released in 2006. Since then he has been touring extensively with percussionist Humberto Vela and further exploring the potential of the Synth Access Guitar, a guitar that allows musicians to access a multitude of instrumental sounds, which he was involved in developing for Carvin. Those three elements are the essence of Global Kiss. He spent a lot of time overseas and wanted to capture the influence of different cultures and bring percussion sounds into the thematic foreground, and Oliver can pull any sound out of a guitar and play anything on it in the first place so technological advances give him even more sonic space to explore. Sometimes this music just bursts at the seams with sound and spirit. The percussion driven title track has a boundless energy that is fueled by firey percussion-guitar jams and acoustic-electric sound shifts. "Barcelo," named after a hotel he stayed in while he was in Spain mixes his trademark vocalese with a joyous flamenco flavored guitar line, spirited horn arrangement and delicious solo from keyboardist/producer Nate Harasim. "Sunlight Within" sounds like the title, warm and bright. He surrounds his speedy licks and lines with such engaging melodies and textures that you can get lost in the song and not realize what he is doing technically. Then it hits you with one big wow! It's not all high tech meets flashy fingers  though. "Be Aye" flows gently over the vocal chant that named the song, "Long Road" is elegantly ambient and "Angel Amore" brings the acoustic guitar to the foreground in a Metheny influenced ballad that is orchestrated by the above mentioned guitar synth. Simply beautiful.

I can't say enough about the vocals on this album. The stats on my iPod can. I played "Take Me Away (Distant Shore)" 43 times in two days. He is writing at the same level as some of the most outstanding singer/songwriters out there and his voice is musical, unaffected, honest, and original which makes him completely stand out in the midst of a glut of singers who want to be the next Josh Groban, Michael Buble, Billy Joel, or a male Norah or Sade. He has also inadvertently given us a song cycle that tells the story of a lot of our lives with much hope and inspiration between the lines. "Life Goes On" is about staying hopeful on those days when it seems like a  constant uphill run.  "Fearless," which was also on the live CD/DVD in a different configuration, is a meditation on letting go of fear that turns into a mantra, and "Take Me Away" starts out with the line "Just waiting for an opportunity, can you imagine it? Slowly unwinding the string that binds as I unravel it." In those two sentences he captures the essence of a restlessness a lot of people have but could not nail down with words.

Oliver assembled an impressive supporting cast on this one. Relationships he has developed over the years coming even more into fruition. Tom Schuman and Bonny B from Spyro Gyra, uber-producer saxophonist Darren Rahn, Alan Hewitt, Marion Meadows, Bob Baldwin, and longtime friends Will Donato (another star on the verge) and bassist Larry Antonino. Meadows not only plays on the album, he also designed the cover graphics as he is getting more into visual art and graphic design. It's a complete package musically and visually - a collection of exceptional music that is multifaceted, joyous, hopeful, and entertaining. Like Ken Navarro's Dreaming of Trains and Chris Standring's Blue Bolero. Global Kiss presents an artist throwing off the formatic handcuffs, going within and going all out with his music. A few years ago that may have held him back but now it puts him in a position to become one this evolving genre's most influential players.  

Visit Steve Oliver's website – www.steveolivermusic.com – to hear a podcast Steve narrated about the maing of the CD. You can also song samples and order an autographed copy of the CD.