Bob Seger - I Knew You When (5 Star)

by Kevin Wierzbicki

After a three-year wait between new albums and a recent health scare that caused him to interrupt his Runaway Train Tour, Seger returns with a very strong set in I Knew You When. Long known for being a masterful crafter of radio-ready songs, (his Greatest Hits album, certified "diamond" earlier this year for ten million units sold, attests to that) Seger demonstrates that talent in the album's opening number "Gracile," a lusty blues-tinged rocker about the appeal of a woman who is so attractive that she'll curl the toes of her admirers. Perhaps still conscious of the fact that songs needed to be relatively short to get on the radio back when he first started out, Seger keeps his appreciation for the gracile (It means slender and attractive) lady to just under three minutes. There are nods to other songwriters here too as Seger cover's Lou Reed's "Busload of Faith" and Leonard Cohen's "Democracy;" "Busload of Faith" as performed by Reed has a sort of "we're all doomed" ominous edge to it but Seger infuses the song with positivity as he sets it to a big arrangement complete with a horn section and background singers who give the cut a slight gospel feel. For "Democracy" Seger sticks pretty close to Cohen's arrangement, his vocals resonating far brighter than Cohen's trademark deadpan delivery. The album's title indicates that Seger might be in a reflective mood here, and that comes home on the melancholy title cut, and more powerfully on the slow and emotional devotional to a lifelong love, "I'll Remember You." "Marie" is another homage to a desirable woman where the slow tempo and acoustic guitar parts hint that this is a relationship to be savored even though the lover that Seger portrays seems quite willing to move along at any moment. With guitars set to "diesel," "Runaway Train" careers down the musical track with a steady drumbeat and saxophone blasts mimicking train whistles, "Something More" is a dramatic ballad about trying to define a relationship, and "Forward Into the Past" is a classic Seger rocker with commentary about how many of the things that built America have fallen by the wayside, as if they never existed. The album closes with "Glenn Song," Seger's heartfelt tribute to his late friend Glenn Frey, and there's no doubt that many will experience watery eyes when hearing the tune, at least for the first couple of times. Seger has been hinting that he may be retiring soon, but with the release of this excellent album and the announcement that the Runaway Train Tour will resume in the spring, fans can be grateful that that day is not here yet.

Bob Seger - I Knew You When (5 Star)

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