Photo by Kate Coogan
“Steve Hartsoe sings with the conviction of a nomad bleeding his heart dry, performing for anyone from the side of a boxcar.”
— -- Richard Murray, POW Magazine, San Francisco
For this veteran rocker, a former AP journalist and college pitcher turned husband and father, that all-in conviction is an audible thread running through the 15 tracks on the Raleigh, N.C., artist’s latest indie release, “The Big Fix-Deluxe Edition,” released Dec. 1, 2017.
After almost two decades removed from writing, recording and performing his own songs, Hartsoe is again singing about the daily of life -- its troubles, joys and all the in-between. But this time he has a lot more life experience to sing about.
That wisdom is reflected in the album’s first single, the Gaslight Anthem-inspired “Said and Done,” which acknowledges life’s struggles while trying to see the good in the world through the innocent perspective of his children.
“These days they go by, don't know if I'll laugh or cry. I'm troubled by the news, troubled by the years I lose. You love every song, and you sing along. Miracles all around, if only I could see what I’ve found.”
“The Big Fix-Deluxe Edition,” a fully remixed and remastered version of Hartsoe’s 2016 release, features five bonus tracks, two of which are new songs -- “Said and Done” and the alt-country “If I Had One Song.” The latter features stellar pedal steel guitar by Dave Ristrim, an old friend from Hartsoe’s earlier musician life in his native California who’s now in Luke Bryan’s band.
Hartsoe’s Tom Petty influence is also represented on the album, with a cover of “Trailer,” a favorite B-side from the legendary songwriter. “I got serious about music after seeing Petty and the Heartbreakers perform in San Francisco in the 1980s,” Hartsoe says. “They were the ultimate example of guys playing for the song, and just having a blast. I’m not sure there will ever be another band that can fire on all cylinders as well as they did.”
The idea to remix “The Big Fix” came after Raleigh sound engineer Kevin McNoldy, who had mastered “The Big Fix,” remixed the track “One Last Tear” for release as a single in December 2016. That sparked the idea to remix the entire album to give it a bigger, more radio-friendly sound. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, McNoldy, who has worked with artists including Dave Matthews and Mary Chapin Carpenter, remixed and remastered the 15 tracks at Cphonic Mastering in Raleigh.
Hartsoe honed his musical skills fronting one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s popular indie rock bands of the late 1980s and early ’90s, London Down, later renamed The Raging Marys. As a band member and later a solo artist, he shared the bill with such notable artists as Dan Vickrey (Counting Crows), The Smithereens, Chris Isaak, Mudhoney and Todd Rundgren.
Burned out and needing to move on to a “real job,” Hartsoe then devoted his energy to building a career as a journalist and raising a family, with the occasional coffeehouse gig.
Fast forward to 2014: Thanks to a Father’s Day gift of recording studio time that jump-started his music career, Hartsoe is again writing songs, recording and performing in around his current home near Raleigh, North Carolina.
Joining him in the studio and live as The Beacon Souls are teenage son Eli Hartsoe on drums (who learned the instrument by playing along with his Uncle Ken’s drumming on London Down/Raging Marys records), Wahba, who owned the home studio where Hartsoe did much of the recording and provides guitar, bass, keyboards and background vocals. Their first project was the four-song EP, “Neo-Traditional,” released digitally in 2014. Russ Bullock joined the band in 2017, adding guitar and mandolin at shows and future recordings.
Also contributing to “The Big Fix-Deluxe Edition” are Ristrim, who along with pedal steel adds B-bender electric guitar, banjo and Dobro, Hartsoe’s former London Down bandmate Phil Benjamin (guitar solo on “Trailer”), Kurt Wuerfele (lap steel, guitar solo on “Only God Knows”) and Jennifer Allred (harmony vocal on “Only God Knows”).
-- Steven McReynolds