The title for Dave Steen & Jaillhouse Tattoo’s new CD came easily. “Every town is a town full of secrets”, says Steen. “You could have a wide spot in the road with only 4 residents, and each one of them has secrets they’re hoping the other three don’t know and never find out. And anyway,” he adds with a wink, “it’s more fun to sing about people that have made some foolish choices.”
In a career spanning several decades, Steen has written songs for Solomon Burke, Junior Wells, Son Seals, Eric Burdon, Maria Muldaur, James Cotton, Terry Evans, Jo-El Sonnier, and The Cate Brothers, as well as modern blues torch bearers Coco Montoya, Michael Burks, Sherman Robertson, James Armstrong, Larry McCray, D.A. Foster and others. Over a dozen songs co-written with Montoya have appeared on that artist’s albums, and Steen played guitar on Coco’s 2000 Alligator Records release, “Suspicion”.
When it was time to record his own project, the Lincoln, Nebraska-based artist turned to some of the region’s most accomplished players to help him lay down this collection of all-original songs. But when the album was completed, Steen still had no idea what to call the band.
“Craig Balderston (bass), Justin G. Jones (drums), Darren Pettit and Bucky McCann (saxes) are definitely ‘all-stars’”, says Steen, “but using that phrase in a band name, well, it’s been done.”
Steen - an alumnus of The Heartmurmurs, former house band for Lincoln’s famous blues club The Zoo Bar – doesn’t contain his enthusiasm for his bandmates: “The guys are all great players but also fine musicians, and have a strong sense of where the music is coming from. That was important if I was going to get the sound I was looking for. Each song has a different feel, and the bass and drums locked in and swung really hard on everything. The sax players are great readers – I wrote the horn parts for all the songs – but they’re also rippin’ soloists. It was a LOT of fun hearing this thing come together.”
In the end, he borrowed a phrase from one of the CD’s songs, and credited the project to “Dave Steen & Jailhouse Tattoo”. Steen explains: “It sounded rough & ready, and that definitely describes both the guys and the feeling on the record as a whole.”
A colorful guided tour of 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s “roadhouse roots” music, “Town Full Of Secrets” features a Stax-inspired, horn-based instrumental (“Soda Pop”), a twisted New Orleans stomp (“Bloodshot”), a Tex-Mex rocker (“Let’s Get You Home”), a tremolo-laden minor blues (“I Was Wrong”), and a Stones-meets-Van R&B workout (“Climb Up The Ladder”) – and those are just the first five songs. “All these songs are dance songs. There’s a fast, Albert Collins-type shuffle, a mid-tempo Texas shuffle, and a funky blues to sort of anchor the album, but there’s also an uptempo Latin number and a Motown-meets-Jimi Hendrix soul-rocker. Plus I integrated little sound clips here & there that I call ‘vintage entertainment events’ to help create the mood.” Steen concludes by saying, “The album wears its influences on its sleeve, but it’s also very original and a lot of fun. I think people are going to dig it.”