Swinging Steaks Bare all
by Mark Edmonds
Judging by their press kit, it's hard to picture Boston's Swinging Steaks any
other way than successful. Throughout the nine pages of clips, the
eight-year-old group are touted as one of the biggest things to hit the
roots-music world since Graham Parsons crossed the line between rock and
country 25 years ago. Billboard applauds the band. In another,
CMJ seems to drool for them. As I read them, I have the impression that
though these five guys from the suburbs haven't exactly made it, they must be
But they're not there yet. Despite everyone's high hopes (and the praise of
music writers) the group, who appear this Friday at the Plantation Club and
next Friday at Shirley's Bull Run, may be stuck in a miserable career quagmire.
Thanks to a stretch of bad luck, worthy of a cry-in-your-beer country song, the
band have seen their once bright fortunes dimmed since their 1993 national
debut, Southside of the Sky (Capricorn).
That disc's bright, twangy melodies and three-part harmonies helped land the
group spots on then experimental Triple A radio playlists. Two singles,
"Circlin'," and "Beg Steal or Borrow," even made the format's Top 10.
Overnight, the Steaks went from local cult faves (they were regulars in
Phoenix music polls) to burgeoning national roots-music stars.
But just as their career hit cruising speed, the gods stopped smiling. First,
the band's label dropped them in a restructuring move. Soon after, many of
those same commercial stations that had toyed with Triple A (and airing
Southside) switched to playing something else.
Though these were setbacks, the band carried on, touring and releasing
critically acclaimed disc, 1995's Shiner (on the Newton-based indie
Thrust). Like its predecessor, the disc garnered the band great reviews and
helped solidify their regional base.
"I've always seen it as being more about music than anything else with us,"
says guitarist Tim Giovanello. "So what happened? We had some fun on the road,
made a name for ourselves, and that was it. If we didn't get a deal again, I
don't think any of us would give up playing. We never started this to be stars,
anyway. It was always about playing."
Still, the band wanted to take another crack at the national scene. "There's
something about the term `dropped' that makes it hard for other labels to look
at you," Giovanello says. "Even though Capricorn dropped us because they were
reorganizing, others saw that, and it bothered them. It's been hard to get
So in true DIY fashion, the band went back to releasing their material on
Thrust. Their fourth disc, Bare, recently surfaced, with more than a few
examples of the music that made audiences take to them in the first place.
Throughout the live disc's 15 tracks, the band effortlessly breeze through a
compilation of songs culled from their earlier studio discs. Included are
mellow, Nashville-styled, mid-tempo country rockers such as "Saddle Up" and
"This High," the upbeat, hook-laden radio hit "Circlin'," and a spooky slide-
guitar fueled "Family Tree" that comes out sounding like an eclectic
Two covers -- a high-octane, bluegrass-styled cover of Townes Van Zandt's
"White Freightliner Blues" and one of the slowest, saddest versions of country
legend George Jones's "He Stopped Loving Her Today" -- also appear because, as
Giovanello quietly raves, "they're great songs. I've always really liked the
way Townes could write, and I've tried to learn from him."
So what about the Jones tune? "We were on a trip South once, and it seemed
like we heard that a million times on the radio," he remembers. "As strange as
this sounds, it almost drove us crazy. But after a while we started liking it.
Now, strangely enough, we play it."
Even though they're happy with their current status, the Steaks still look
forward to another shot at the big time. And one may be coming. Recently,
New Country magazine asked the band to offer a song for a sampler disc
that it plans to fold into its September issue -- an ironic twist considering
that the group have fought tooth and nail against anyone's attempt to label
them "a country band."
Could it be that the Steaks are softening? "I don't really know. I guess
see what happens after September."
The Swinging Steaks play Worcester's Plantation Club on August 1
and Shirley's Bull Run on August 8 (425-4311).