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You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks
Seasick Steve

You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks
Released 27 May 2011

Seasick Steve,
Henry James Wold
Label Play It Again Sam
Length 43:14
Genre Blues
Website www.seasicksteve.com

So the story goes that when Seasick Steve was offered one of the main Saturday slots on the Pyramid Stage at last year’s Glastonbury Festival he found himself in a quandary, wondering if his elevation to the big time meant that he would need to evolve his stage show beyond a simple bar stool. You can see his point; spectacle wise, his minimalist take would pale in comparison to the over the top light show extravaganzas that would be put on by Scissor Sisters and Muse later that evening. However he decided it best not to mess with a tried and tested formula and impressed with his bare bones set up where acts like Gorillaz, the very epitome of over the top stage shows, faltered. His epiphany, that he is who he is, became the driving force behind his latest album You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks.

While it may be a cliché, the title is an evocative one with multiple meanings: taken as an apologetic explanation or a triumphant declaration. Opening track 'Treasures' would appear to suggest that it’s the former, Seasick Steve battling to understand his place in the grand scheme of things. It’s an extremely melancholic and unexpected start to the album and you start to wonder if the unlikeliest of musical talents is starting to buckle under the pressure.

Thankfully it’s a short lived feeling, the stripped down simplicity gives way to the raucousness that is the title track, where Steve confirms with ferocity that you definitely can’t teach an old dog new tricks, which ain’t such a bad thing if the tricks he already knows are as ballsy as this. This is where Steve excels; the adrenalin pumping and the snarled vocals, it's impossible not to enjoy the man in full flight. Similarly, tracks like 'Back In The Doghouse', 'Days Gone' and 'Don’t Know Why She Love Me But She Do' elicit the same toe-tapping response and all is well in the land of Seasick Steve.

Or so it would seem.

The downfall of this album lies in its serious lack of cohesion. The problem is found in the quiet spaces between the unruly moments, the songs become a tad generic and lacking in bite. Take 'Whiskey Ballad' for instance, it fancies itself as a drinking song but comes across more like a radio jingle, 'It’s A Long Long Way' is way too schmaltzy for its own good and though a technically tough song to play on guitar 'Have Mercy On The Lonely' is just plain boring. With no slide guitar and growling to hide the shortcomings, his lack of finesse as a song writer is blatantly obvious.

Seasick Steve is an immensely likable character; his bedraggled appearance, his colourfully named instruments and his underdog status all make him endearing, like a slightly eccentric uncle. The fact that he becomes a septuagenarian this year only adds to the appeal, where you really wonder could you perform with such zeal when you hit seventy. While a lot of his fame is down to the novelty factor, this is compensated and indeed overshadowed by his knack for rocking out and this alone makes the duller moments on this album bearable. Though You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks is far from a classic, it contains enough trademark Seasick Steve moments to make it worthwhile.

- Brian Kinsella