In 1976, Steve Forbert came to New York from Jimmie Rodgers's hometown of Meridian, Mississippi, with a harmonica, an acoustic guitar and a guitar case of terrific songs. His debut album, "Alive on Arrival," was released in '78, and Forbert has been trying to live up to its tremendous promise ever since. He finally fulfilled his talent with Mission of the Crossroad Palms
," the best album of his career. His first recording in three years (and only his third in 13), it preserves the breezy charm of his early work while stripping it of all its callow glibness. Instead of puffing up the importance of his subject matter, Forbert is more likely to deflate it. Forbert, once tagged "the new Dylan," now more closely resembles John Prine in these bouncy country folk tunes and in such down-to-earth aphorisms as "It Is What It Is (And That's All)."
Forbert works best in folk rock arrangements which sketch out the harmonies and rhythms with a minimalism which matches his wispy voice. E Street Band alumnus Garry Tallent--who also produced Forbert's second-best album, 1988's "Streets of This Town"--gives the singer just the lean support he needs. But mostly the album works because it harvests Forbert's best-ever crop of songs: the ironic reflections of a retired railroad worker, "It Sure Was Better Back Then"; a hooky shuffle about relighting an old flame, "Lay Down Your Weary Tune Again"; and the Gothic imagery of the apology ballad, "Oh, To Be Back with You." --Geoffrey Himes