Steve Norwood’s Inspirations Behind Second Album “Thin Ice”
By Robert Foran III
A few years ago, Steve Norwood caught a case of the blues in Talkeetna when someone sat through his set at the Fairview Inn and then turned to him afterwards and said, “Ya know, I didn’t like one song you played all night.”— inspiring Norwood to write a song.
Norwood became intrigued and discovered that the Talkeetna man wearing dirty Carhartts, bunny boots and a long white beard wanted to hear the blues. Norwood explained that he was a folk musician and that blues bands are abundantly found throughout Alaska. The friendly conversation resonated with Norwood and upon returning home to Girdwood, he picked up his guitar and started writing the title track to his new album—a bluesy rock and roll jam he called ‘Thin Ice.’
In December 2018, Norwood released “Thin Ice” — his second solo record capturing eight songs that hold new and familiar sounds from the established singer/songwriter.
He is recognized locally from his almost eighteen-year tenure as bartender at Chair 5 Restaurant, where he is now an assistant manager. Of course he’s also been a key band member of the Photonz, who still get together for highly anticipated reunion shows annually.
‘Thin Ice’ showcases an impressive line of musicians, some of which are bandmates from the Photonz, like Peter Townsend, Benjamin Robinson and Tony Restivo. Others talents who spent time at Shunab Ku Studios in Anchorage to record include Aaron Benolkin, Toby Quinn, Jessica Martens, Randy Pasley and more, giving ‘Thin Ice’ its full and well-mixed sound.
Collectively, everyone who contributed to this record—three years in the making—created a well-rounded piece of art not only musically, but also in the cover art. Norwood liked the work done for his 2015 release “King Of The Mountain” and asked his close friend, J. Wilson Costello, to design something again for “Thin Ice.” The result looks like a winter scene while driving along Turnagain Arm on the Seward Highway.
The cover image captures a vision that Norwood had revolving around the lyrics to the song ‘Thin Ice’ saying, “Been up and down this highway, still don’t know where I’ve been.”
Norwood said, “I wanted to put a little road in there that goes off into the mountains.”
In talking about the inspiration for ‘Thin Ice,’ Norwood made interesting comments about each song. Opening with ‘Thin Ice,’ Norwood steers away from his classic folk-jam sound for a lengthy blues rocker. Once he returned home from a gig and a thought-provoking conversation in Talkeetna, the blues began pouring out of Norwood.
He said, “I started jamming some blues chords and progressions, one thing led to another and the lyrics just kinda flowed into a contradictory little thing.”
Once completed, Norwood liked the song so much he decided to make it the title track to his next record. ‘Thin Ice’ has a driving piano and bass, and “a guitar that only Pete Townsend could provide,” says Norwood.
Track 2 is already a popular song on the album. ‘Caravan’ is inspired by a band Norwood enjoyed from North Carolina called Deep Chatham that performed at Chair 5 and the Alaska State Fair. He was taken back by their unique gypsy-folk-rock sound.
Once enough of the recording sessions were complete for the fictional tale Norwood sings in ‘Caravan,’ he still needed a beat. He turned to versatile drummer Cameron Cartland, who had recently expressed interest in working with Norwood.
When Cartland happily agreed to do it, Norwood sent him the tracks with no direction at all — Cartland nailed it.
“He jumped right on it and had it done in no time. I absolutely loved it.” Norwood declared.
‘Caravan’ certainly grasps the feeling of hearing a gypsy band playing mandolins and fiddles with arrangements leaving you in high spirits.
Then there’s ‘Waffensmith’ — an upbeat instrumental named after a remarkable last name a server at Chair 5 shared with Norwood off a credit card. The staff member approached Norwood with the card saying, “Check out this name; Somebody Waffensmith.” Norwood instantly thought, ‘Waffensmith? That’s gotta be the name of a song.’
The next track, ‘Take It Away,’ is a song that derived from being on an early 2000’s tour with the Photonz for too long in a tightly packed RV. It’s a calm countryish song that acts as a turning point within the album in sound and essentially another blues song lyric-wise.
Norwood said, “It’s a story of realizing that being on the road wasn’t for me. I just wanted to come back home to Alaska.”
For track 5, Norwood provides a relaxing instrumental called ‘Waterfall.’ Imagine sitting by a stream and listening to the sound of the water flowing into cascading waterfalls — this song provides a perfect soundtrack. Upon listening, songs like Jefferson Airplanes’s ‘Embryonic Journey’ and Led Zeppelin’s ‘Bron-Yr-Aur’ come to mind. A great one to kick back to and enjoy some excellent finger picking influenced by guitarist Jorma Kaukonen says Norwood.
Following that tune is ‘Four Times Across.’ This one is a chill song about the wild experiences Norwood had while traveling cross-country, coast to coast, four times in one year.
He said, “I was 20 years old looking for adventure. I bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco from Baltimore. Then I stuck my thumb out and lived an adventure that whole summer long.”
Norwood calls the song that revives his classic sound, “A soul-searching, hitchhiking adventure.”
Another favorite among peers and fans is the dreamy-like “Stars Fell,” a poem Norwood wrote after the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. Norwood said, “There’s symbolism in the words that were feelings that I had toward what the country was going through at that time.”
Norwood shared a story about the origin of the song saying, “I was on a beach in northern California with some friends. There was a moment where I broke away from them and found some inspiration to write a poem.” He added, “Years later, the music came to me.”
Once he combined them, a moving song was born that paints a colorful picture of what the poem speaks of.
The CD concludes with ‘Heavy.’ The story behind this one proves that inspiration can come out of nowhere. It was on a night Norwood was helping his son build a pinewood derby race car.
He said, “I was melting lead fishing weights and drilling holes in the car to give it some extra weight.” Suddenly he came up with the line, ‘Heavy like lead’ and said, “Whoa, that’s a song.” He immediately broke from working on the derby car and sat down to write the music and words for “Heavy” within hours. “That one just flowed off my tongue.” Norwood said.
‘Heavy’ brings it all back home with a similar feel to the title track in the energy it brings, making this album a rock and roll sandwich filled with all the sounds Steve Norwood and company genuinely provide; a slice of folk, bluegrass, gypsy-rock, blues, an array of quintessential instruments and a distinct voice the sounds ultimately Alaskan.
On Jan. 12, Norwood celebrated the release of his album by performing at Girdwood’s Silvertip Grill playing music from ‘Thin Ice’ as well as old favorites. During his set, he was surprised by Tony Restivo, who was carrying his bass and asked to join him. Together they finished the show to a full crowd enjoying the good vibes and selling plenty of CDs.
Norwood’s home community has given his new songs a positive reception. The general consensus is that “Caravan,” “Stars Fell,” and “Thin Ice” are some of the highlights found on ‘Thin Ice’ and the instrumentals also have a solid place on the record providing contrast and reveal Norwood’s finger picking skills.
Radio stations like KEUL 88.9 FM and KNBA 90.3 FM in Anchorage have been spinning the CD, keeping it in their song rotation and featuring it on local music programs.
Director of Programming and Operations at KNBA, Loren Dixon said, “This album feels like a veteran artist who is comfortable sharing a personal, local sound as much as he’s sharing genuine stories. It’s Steve, but it is Alaska too, and it definitely will be shared on the radio.”
In addition to being played on Alaska radio, ’Thin Ice’ is available to hear and purchase through iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Amazon and more.
For more information about Steve Norwood’s music please visit his Facebook page @ facebook.com/Steve-Norwood-810726318967446/
Robert Foran’s work can be followed through Facebook @ Foran Brand Journalism