Steve Bell has won two of Canada’s Grammy Awards, known as the Junos. Yet most Canadians, let alone people from other countries, haven’t heard of him. Industry insiders admire him, however, as an indie phenom who has supported himself for years by touring and releasing CDs on his own label, Signpost Music. He recently performed with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, and is now touring East Africa on behalf of the Canada Foodgrains Bank, a major charity.
How do I know him? Well, partly because three or four times, I have actually been “The Steve Bell Band.”
Yes, during three visits to Regent College and once during a weekend conference in Seattle, your servant traded his lecture notes for an electric bass (I play an unusual 5-string Fender) and backed Steve in concert. He is so good that my participation did not prevent the audiences from having a pleasant evening.
Normally, of course, Steve plays with genuine professionals, not novelty acts such as theologians-cum-bassists. They include the extraordinarily talented young pianist Mike Janzen and the experienced bassist and you-won’t-believe-it-til-you-see-it-played “stick”-player Fergus Marsh.
Steve is the selfless promoter of other fine Canadian Christian singers on his label, such as Carolyn Arends (whose Christmas album is unusually fresh) and Glen Soderholm, both of whom I have enjoyed meeting and whose recordings I am delighted to own.
He himself has the widest appeal of any singer I have come across: grandparents, parents, and children all attend his concerts, often together, and even my very cool sons–one of whom prefers Green Day and Relient K to anything resembling folk music–like him a lot. Concerts are worth attending because he is a terrific raconteur, with a boyish charm seasoned nicely by an experienced adult’s realism.
Steve is a fluid, subtle guitarist–and his albums show he is capable of some sensitive piano and even a gorgeous trumpet. His lyrics put most songwriters to shame: they scan, they rhyme, they avoid the banal, they make you think, and they make ready sense. His are among the few popular albums that can withstand lots of listenings: I have listened to them dozens of times (partly to prepare for those concerts I mentioned) and I still enjoy them in the car and in private worship.
In the ridiculously niche-y world of contemporary music, I won’t offer many recommendations. But this guy stands out, lyrically and musically, from the usual self-absorbed folkies or brainless Christian crooners. Check him out.