Pete Herzog's Steel Guitar, A Blues Opera, tells the story of one guitar as it passes through different hands over its lifetime.
It's purchased, stolen, won in a card game, and handed down through generations.
"I have often thought about vintage instruments I have played and wondered at their history and felt all those who had played had colored their sound," Herzog explains. That curiosity about whose hands have graced a guitar and where it has traveled sparked the idea for the new album.
Steel Guitar, A Blues Opera, features 22 original songs. The music, a combination of acoustic blues and folk, is only part of the album. In between songs, Herzog narrates the story of the gamblers and lovers who are linked by the guitar.
The backroad characters include Too Slim, who starts off the tale by having the guitar stolen, and Clyde, who loves but loses a gal named Stella. Herzog's affection for them and the others who populate his blues opera shine through.
His own bio is just as colorful, reading that he started playing lap steel at age 8 and worked on the railroad, where he learned call-and-response songs while driving spikes into wood ties.
The album showcases Herzog's picking style and smooth, lived-in voice. His relaxed, autumnal way of spinning a story recalls Greg Brown, maybe Utah Phillips, but with less folk and more blues.
The two-disc album would be good to take on a long road trip when you have time to listen and digest the entire piece. Herzog would be fine company.
On the other hand, more casual listeners may be put off by the narrative storytelling breaks that come quickly and often between songs.
As a result, it is important to know that this is a performance piece and not a straight-ahead music album.
Herzog has been performing the work as a one-man show, but he wrote the material with the idea that it could be performed by a number of people.