For some artists, a creative change of pace means the return to a simpler, more natural version of their style; a taste of a musical pace that transcends time and production to an era when all one had was a guitar, a voice and a story to tell.
Duane Steele, a highly acclaimed and seasoned Canadian country singer, brought his dressed-down, honest acoustic performance through Coronation Community Centre on January 17, 2014 to a cheerful and respectful crowd of central Alberta locals. His humble performance was held as part of the Coronation Royal Performing Arts series, which receives financial assistance from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts Presenting Grant and it did not disappoint. Steele was yet another example of a rural Alberta-based musician who’s small-town roots nurtured a strong talent for musicianship.
Steele was born and raised in the modest town of Hines Creek, AB which now boasts a population of 396 people. He began playing music with his cousins as a teenager and was encouraged by his peers and townsfolk to continue his journey as an artist.
“Growing up in a small town exposed me to a lot of different music at an early age,” Steele said. “For me it fuelled the fire to commit and dedicate to a life and career of music. I was inspired to want to get out and take my music to bigger and broader audience.”
Steele’s beginnings as a solo artist saw immediate success for the singer. After releasing his debut album PO Box 423 in 1996, his first three singles flew to the top five spots of the Canadian country charts, with numerous music videos nabbing the #1 spot on the Country Music Television (CMT) station. Steele also saw success at the Canadian Country Music Awards, winning for Vocal Collaboration of the Year (1997) and Independent Male Vocalist of the Year (2001).
With such a long and successful career, Steele saw it fit to branch out into new musical territory for his next project, including a distinctly Albertan twist to his production efforts.
“The new material is acoustic versions of all of my music,” explained Steele. “I’ve released six albums since ‘96, some in Nashville and Canada. But the new album coming out this year that I’m working on is an acoustic album we’ve done in Red Deer. We’re keeping it small and simple for the new album.”
Steele took a decidedly hands on, organic approach to co-producing this latest effort, which was arguably more intimate than his previous bigger-scale studio efforts.
“[In previous studio productions] we basically went into bigger studios and cut everything with the band” Steele explained. “Then I would do whatever parts I had to; singing and playing acoustic, wrap up send it up to mix. For this latest album myself and Jeff Bradshaw, who I’m working with sat down with the songs and a standup bass, fiddle and mandolin and cut in one day.”
This evolution toward a more subtle, natural sound was not lost during his January 17 performance.
Steele and bandmates entertained the crowd with a variety of songs and anecdotes about life, love and the liberal consumption of alcoholic beverages.
“If you have any requests just keep them to yourself, I don’t tell you what to drink,” Steele mused at the onset of the show; an indication of the down to earth, relaxed tone that would flow throughout the evening.
Steele’s casual on-stage manner and charming character were perfectly suited for his easy, smooth country style. From songs about heartbreak in the country to tales of keeping good memories bottled up for future reference, Steele’s lyrical content spanned a variety of subjects that most everyone could relate to.
Songs like Ghost Town had the galloping pace of a train on the move, chugging along with an intense frequency as Steele spoke of the barren landscape of a loveless relationship. An upbeat cover of Bob Dylan’s Wagon Wheel (Rock Me, Mama) blended well into the lighthearted, flirtatious optimism many of his songs portrayed.
The variety and comedy of Steele’s act left the crowd mellow and happy, reflecting perfectly his intentions as an artist at this point in his career.
“I’ve always been a fan of storytellers… that’s where I come from for sure. Doing acoustic-based shows is more intimate. You can talk about the songs, tell the odd story about where they came from… it appeals to me a lot more these days,” he said. And with this show, it was obvious that Steele was right where he should be at this point in his career.