Blue Moon Diner
On the cover of Blue Moon Diner, Steve March is shown glancing up from the black coffee and lemon meringue pie set before him.
We cannot see exactly at what or whom he might be looking.
Nonetheless, this collection of gritty, heartfelt songs vividly evokes a lifelong search for that anticipated shadow in the doorway.
Throughout his debut CD, March maps the rugged terrain of love's risks and dangers while never quite losing hope in the possibility of love's reward.
In the rocking, hard-edged "Gonna Find Me Another Angel," March declares his independence of a woman whose "game is too mysterious."
"End of the Line" portrays the singer walking a tightrope between his desire to connect with a woman and his weariness with their game-playing. The song's opening lines dramatize this tension:
Night falls like a hammer over the city,
the sky turns midnight blue.
I walk past hustlers and mannequins
down on the avenue.
Although he realizes that "something doesn't seem right" with his relationship, March admits, "I'd like to get used to seeing your face. I'd like your body to hold."
In "Where the Coconuts Grow," an acoustic ballad, the singer portrays a man and woman finding pleasure in each other's company and in the simple joys of life-running barefoot through evening dew, listening to a mockingbird sing, fishing in a creek.
In "Sweet Temptation," March tells how an illicit love can turn an ordinary man's world upside-down:
I've seen a rainbow in the desert,
prayer move a mountain,
and lightning split a tree in two.
It's all begun to seem
like a half-forgotten dream,
baby, since I met you.
"Daddy Was a Cowboy," the album's emotional core, depicts the heartache of a child growing up without a father. After thinking he might have seen his mysteriously absent father on the sidewalk of a city street, a boy lies in bed listening to the rain and wondering "why my daddy never came."
Meanwhile, the child's mother, a waitress at the Blue Moon Diner, struggles to raise her son on her own. Past her prime and unlucky in love, she "keeps on wondering what she's been doing wrong."
Producer Wes Lachot's lean, powerful arrangements lend a distinctively Southern flavor to Blue Moon Diner-from the funky, Cajun-influenced "Dr. Zeus' Traveling Freak Show" to "What's The Use In Loving You," a classic country song about the pain of trying to hang on to a love gone bad.
In fact, the songs on Blue Moon Diner sound like tunes you'd hear playing on a 1950s Wurlitzer jukebox in a truck stop or diner in the Deep South.
"Steve's songs are raw and earthy, yet very refined lyrically," said Wes Lachot, owner of Overdub Lane recording studio in Durham, NC.
"Musically, they are pure, almost folk melodies. They remind me of the early songs of Bob Dylan. Because Steve was singing about human beings in everyday, heartrending situations, I felt like the less refined the music was, the more powerful the album would be."
Lachot's approach was not without challenges, however.
"I remember one of the band members saying to me, 'In this part of the song, Steve is changing the beat every time he sings it. He needs to nail it down, tell us what it is.' And I said, 'No, we're not going to have him nail it down. Because that would take out the raw, unconscious quality that is one of his strengths.'
"I like Steve's aura of unpredictability-his music's reckless, out-on-a-limb quality-but at times it left the players never quite knowing where they were going to land. But these guys are great musicians, some of the best around, so they handled it."
Lachot and co-producer Robert Donnan assembled a talented band to play on Blue Moon Diner.
Musicians include Clyde Mattocks, whom Lachot describes as "the best pedal steel player in North Carolina," guitarists Jason Barker, Scott Miller, and Mike Kraus, bassist Jack Campbell, drummer Dan Davis, fiddler Dave McKnight, and Chris Frank of the Red Clay Ramblers.
Background vocalist Emma Davis kicks the emotion of "End of the Line" and "Built for Love" into overdrive when she sings on the choruses of those songs. Davis, lead singer for the Raleigh rock-and-roll band, "Big Mama E and the Cool," sings a more dulcet, traditional harmony on the chorus of "Sweet Temptation."
Country singer Nancy Middleton, formerly of Durham, now living in Nashville, provides break-your-heart background vocals on "Daddy Was a Cowboy."
Lachot and Donnan selected the songs on Blue Moon Diner from an extensive repertoire of March's tunes.
"One of the most interesting things about this collection is its capacity to surprise," Donnan said. "Each song is a gem in its own way. Listening to the album from start to finish, you hear every song move the mood into new territory.
"In one way or another, many of the songs on Blue Moon Diner wrestle with the notion of faith," Donnan continued. "There is often a sense of looking for something transcendent in Steve's songs. That longing curls through his music like a plume of blue smoke."
The album's final song, "When The Good Times Have All Gone," is a slow, dreamy ballad about trying to connect with other human beings in a bar. Ironically, another man walks out the door with the "angel," whom the singer may have seen before, but "maybe only in a dream." Ultimately, a fulfilling earthly love may remain tantalizingly out of reach.
Preview links below are MP3 format files for listening.
All songs © 2001 Steve March - All Rights Reserved
1) Gonna Find Me Another Angel
2) Built For Love
3) Daddy Was A Cowboy
4) End of the Line
5) What's the Use in Loving You?
6) Tomcat Blues
7) Dr. Zeus' Travelling Freak Show
8) Sweet Temptation
9) Where the Coconuts Grow
10) When The Good Times Have All Gone
Praise for Blue Moon Diner
"This fine author does not, and maybe cannot, pull his punches. What an admirable book!" — Fred Chappell, author of I Am One of You Forever and stories included in Best American Short Stories