It’s been almost 40 years since Old Time Rock and Roll became the soundtrack for a generation of Americans, and its legendary author Bob Seger was their ‘pied piper. His new release I Knew You When, in November of this year, shows he still hones his craft in much the same way, although he’s a little older now, he hasn’t lost his mojo.
This is his 18th studio album, self-produced and recorded in Detroit and Nashville, it carries a lot more country flavour than his previous mountain of great work, but retains his signature straight-forward rock driven beat. The record has 10 tracks on the standard copy and 13 on the deluxe version, including Glenn Song, a tribute to his good friend and fellow Detroit rocker Glenn Frey of the Eagles, who passed away last year. It’s a slow moving heartfelt ballad that will melt the ice in the whiskey you poured before you put the record on; he sings “You showed the whole world what we knew. There was no-one quite like you”. The album, as the title implies, is a look back, some of the numbers were re-recorded work from earlier efforts that are now seeing the light of day, and he still plays his favourite Takamine Pro Series P7DC, or a Gibson J-200, on the acoustic pieces. He covers two songs Busload of Faith, by Lou Reed, and turns it into his own. There’s that Seger kick given to the rhythm section and his voice is timeless in front of some tasty background vocals. He also changes some of the lines to fit the Trump presidency, “You can’t depend on the president/Unless there’s real estate you want to buy”. The other cover is Democracy by Leonard Cohen, both a tribute to the author and a political statement that again,reflects the times we live in. It’s a sad rendition that perhaps is how Seger feels about the country he loves, and now sees it fading from view.
Where he may have his doubts about democracy, his faith in rock and roll is still “like a rock”, (one of his smash hits back in the day). On The Sea Inside, he cranks out what he describes as “very Led Zeppelin” with orchestral authority and punch. The 9th track, Something More, is another signature ballad that features distant drums and pointed guitar solos which echo the album’s title of the golden days. Runaway Train (also the name of the tour) sounds just like it should, his gravelly voice over ripping riffs with a driving, rolling beat. The same can be said of The Highway, a rock and roll road song, something so much of his music is rooted in.
This album is pure Bob Seger tailored ballads and pounding rock, some of best he’s done in the 21st century. Something you rock and roll purists might want to put on your shopping list for this Christmas.
It is so refreshing to hear this Rock and Roll Hall of Famer still putting out remarkable material, staying true to what worked, and that never needed fixing.