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Release Date:
May 1, 2012

Reviewed by:
Shannon West

There is a song on this album called “Time Never Goes Away.” It may not go away but it flies by fast. It has been 15 years since Steve Oliver was introduced to the contemporary jazz world as an emerging guitarist and songwriter on Steve Reid's Bamboo Forest Mysteries album. Then 1999 brought our First View of his work as a solo artist. Now with eight albums under his belt, he is still growing and expanding his artistic horizons at a whirlwind pace. World Citizen, his self produced new release, showcases the mastery of both his instrument and studio technology. Best of all, it shows how a sense of playfulness and experimentation can take you places you didn't even know about before. He gracefully walks the tightrope between the familiar sound  his fans expect from him and taking them to beautiful places beyond that territory. He spices up the familiar with unexpected sounds and flavors and makes experimentation and complexity appealing by the amount of sheer beauty he lays into the tracks.

In his podcast he notes that the title for this project evolved during production of the previous CD, Global Kiss, and several of the songs expand on the melodic themes of that project. They are melodic and thematic extensions of the chart topping “Fun In The Sun,” which teamed him with groundbreaking producer Darren Rahn. This time Oliver is solo at the controls with help from his long time sax-friend the brilliant Will Donato, for the first radio release, “Watching the World,” which shifts between a mellow, familiar sounding guitar line and bursts of joyous energy.  The second track, “Fiesta,” continues in this mode with Flamenco flavor and percussive jamming added to the mix. Then the title track really opens things up. Spyro Gyra's Tom Schuman delivers a jazzy piano solo with drummer Bonny B kicking it on the backbeat. The highlights for me are the boundary pushers. Oliver is peerless as a singer-songwriter. He can nail an emotion in one finely honed sentence. “How Would You Know” is full of them. This indictment of braggadocio and burnout once again proves that very deep waters run under his bright and sunny persona. Both “Design” and “Pure Spirit” showcase his acoustic guitar work and mastery of the guitar synthesizer. There is a lot of Pat Metheny and Michael Hedges influence in this music. The textures are pure and clear, the melodies are haunting and picturesque. This is music you can immerse yourself in. “Desert Traveler” takes us to the Middle East with tabla-like percussion and exotic scales. It builds theatrically over layers of synthesizers and violins. Then the mood shifts to meditative with the closer, “Open View,” an acoustic guitar ballad that has more of a folk flavor (think James Taylor at his best), accompanied by trumpet and subtle layers of synths.

Oliver has surrounded himself with quite a supporting cast, from the perfect cover art provided by musician and graphic artist Marion Meadows, right into the grooves. He has been working with Spyro Gyra's Tom Schuman for quite a while. This time he is joined by their amazing drummer, Bonny B - who has so much charisma you can feel it even when you can't see him -  and his Trinidadian compatriot bassist Donald Phillips. Longtime collaborators Will Donato and Mel Brown are here as is current tour-mate Paul Taylor. He has also pulled some folks in from the classic rock side of the fence – Alan Hewitt, who is currently touring with the Moody Blues, Billy Sherwood who did a tenure with Yes, and Jim Peterik from Survivor, best know for writing (ta-da!) “Eye of the Tiger.” Additionally, Oliver plays about every instrument imaginable and some previously unimaginable during these songs. He is so in his zone in the studio that he just takes sonic ideas and runs with them. Every few years he releases an album that takes his game up several notches and along the way the perfect collaborators seem to fall into his path. This is a musical evolution that brings joy in 12 song packages and shows no signs of slowing down. Sharing the journey is joyously big fun for all of us.

You can hear Steve describe the process of writing and recording these songs and share his insights about them on his podcast.