Steve Young has a big voice. It is the type of voice most shower dreamers wish they had, comprised of volume, sustain, range, and emotion. Young, however, is also an accomplished songwriter, though, typically, his albums tend to be half covers and half originals. This album, released 30 years into his career, finds Young's vocal pipes as strong as ever and his songwriting just as sharp as when he penned such classics as "Seven Bridges Road" and "Montgomery in the Rain." And, true to form, there are six originals to five covers. The opening cut, "Jig," is a Young song about the dance (jig) of life. The "jig" is universal and individual: "If you wanna get it on with me/you gotta listen to my tune/If you want me to get it on with you/you gotta play your tune, too." It is a subtle, solid beginning by a sure, old hand. Cut two, "Scotland Is a Land," is a Young-penned song anthemic enough to become Scotland's national song (or some such). Young's powerful baritone, accompanied by the erstwhile Van Dyke Parks
on accordion, is hypnotic as he proclaims, "Scotland is a land/where I might want to die." For a cracker from North Georgia, Young sings of Scotland with the conviction of a native. And that is Young's strength as a songwriter -- he is instantly, and naturally, believable. Of course, it doesn't hurt that his booming voice nails the listener to a wall. Young's take of "East Virginia" evidences another of his strong points -- he can play an acoustic guitar as fast and deft as if playing a banjo. In fact, on up-tempo burners, Young frequently plays banjo lines on the guitar, pumping like some crazed-though-on-the-one piston. The tempo of his vocal on "East Virginia" is only half the tempo of his breakneck picking, creating a unique tension and emphasis on what he is singing. It is as attention grabbing as a steady gaze across a bustling room. Young has successfully plied this technique in the past on such songs as "Travelin' Kind" and "The White Trash Song." Nothing misses on Primal Young. Other originals, such as "Heartbreak Girl," "Little Birdie," and "No Longer Will My Heart Be Truly Breaking," are so distinguished in composition and performance, one once again wonders why Steve Young has never been placed on an equal pedestal with the likes of Merle Haggard
or Waylon Jennings
. The covers, including a devil-may-care, shirttails-out rendition of Tom T. Hall
's "The Year That Clayton Delaney Died" and a warbling, soul-drenched take of Lloyd Price"'s "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," are so splendidly bent to Young's style, he could easily be their composer. Thirty years in and Steve Young is still "primal."