Guitarist Steve Oliver’s vocal abilities are apparent to those lucky enough to have seen him live or grooved to his previous three CDs. Although onstag-e he scats energetically, and even occasionally offers a riotously dead-on trumpet impression, his CDs find him more subdued. On his new CD Oliver places even more emphasis on his vocals, which is a smart move. He has a pretty and crisp acoustic-guitar sound, but then so does every other Tom, Dick, Earl (Klugh), Peter (White) and Russ (Freeman) in contemporary instrumental music. The combination of feel-good sounds and inspired vocalese add to Oliver’s unabashed musical positivism, that’s determined to make listeners feel good.
“Feeling Good,” in fact, gets things going and plays to Oliver’s strengths—hummable melody lines, dreamy scat and a driving, deep-in-the-pocket groove. Ditto for “Good to Go,” a percussion-driven, irresistible track with Oliver’s falsetto scatting matching his guitar lead. Oliver slows down the pace with the breezy “Tradewinds” and with “Shadow of the Moon,” a with-it slice of smooth-jazz-meets-downtempo boosted by Steve Madeo’s groovy trumpet solo. Of the pure vocal tracks, “Bend or Break” is the best and would fit in on any adult-contemporary rotation. But Oliver’s first vocal cover song, Buffalo Springfield’s protest anthem “For What it’s Worth,” seems an odd choice, since his original songs are very strong.