Review by Nick DeRiso

It takes a complex, genre-bending singer to fend off the distracting brilliance of fabled guitar-playing Danny Gatton.  Maine-based Steve Erwin, who made his name playing around Washington, D.C., pulls it off on the newly re-released Was It Like This.  Originally recorded in December 1988 with Gatton, the album is best described by the guitarist himself, who likened his playing to “redneck jazz.”

The opener “Sweet Boy,” a tangy amalgam of rockabilly, country, swing and blues, sets the template.  Erwin and Gatton intertwine at times, then push back like boxers. Erwin experiments with the lyric by changing the tempo, rocking back and forth at an easy gait and then speeding past Gatton. The guitarist’s biting retorts display both a speedy agility and a flinty intelligence.

“Oh Howard” then finds Erwin sharing a dark morality tale, which he smartly contrasts with Gatton’s lively pompadoured rock riff.  That Erwin can play to a tie is its own kind of victory. Still, there’s no getting away from the prodigious skill, and the tragic end, associated with Gatton. Known in life as “the Humbler,” he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at age 49 in 1994.

That gives emotional heft to both the majestically uncomplicated “In Fall,” as well as the brutally honest “Walkin’ This Road.”  “In Fall,” with an intimate contribution from Gatton, takes an autumnal look back at a lost love. Surrounded by the cold embrace of bare tree limbs and crunchy underbrush, Erwin’s desolation is all but complete: “In a moment, it seems like it never has been,” Erwin sings. “Do you remember when? Was it like this, my friend? No, never again.” That rustic melancholy is given new shadings by Gatton’s shyly introspective musings. His solo mimics the percussive density of a jazz pianist, yet retains this artful simplicity.  “Walkin’ This Road,” a mash-up of gospel bluegrass, R&B and blues, has Erwin trying to move on from life’s struggles. He tells himself to take it one day at a time, and that each step pushes him further away from bad times. Walking the righteous path isn’t easy, though, and Erwin admits that, too: “Life may well be sacred, but it’s a heavy load,” he sings. “This never knowing makes a weary road.”  Gatton, who took his life after a difficult period on a major label, must have perfectly understood the sentiment. In fact, there is much to suggest that an ongoing collaboration with Erwin might have been good for both. They share a penchant for melding styles, and a sympathetic world view.

Later, Erwin sings: “The girl I adore on that distant shore leaves a hole where my heart should be. I have had enough adventure; that’s not what I dream of. All that I want for Christmas is an uncomplicated love.” Gatton, who encircles the lyric with a reverb-drenched romanticism, seemed to similarly struggle with untangling life’s intricate distractions. Legendarily reluctant to tour, Gatton remained something of a local legend around southern Maryland, recording only a handful of solo albums to go with a series of sought-after sideman gigs like this one.

Erwin closes with “Born a Tourist,” which moves along like a dimly lit subway. There are periods of loud, clanging motion interrupted by a series of brief, illuminating stops. Erwin catches glimpses of the way things might have been, how they ought to be, but can’t quite achieve a vista. There’s an irony to this twilight journey: “Sleeping on the last seat, on the last train going backward,” Erwin laments. Then Gatton picks up the storyline with an extended instrumental passage. Bassist John Previti, who played with Gatton for almost 20 years, and drummer Harold Howland quickly establish a propulsive foundation for a final display of musical scope and feeling.  In this dazzling moment, Gatton seems so very alive. He just wanted to play the music, to be himself. Same with Erwin, who adds: “I came into this Earth in a Hawaiian shirt, and I’ll probably leave that way.”  The sad part is, together they could have left with so much more.

                                                                                                 - Nick DeRiso

Review by Wildy Haskell

Singer/songwriter Steve Erwin exacts a quiet influence on those around him.  With an operatic voice and a detailed-oriented style of song craft, Erwin made himself a staple of the Washington, DC music scene before moving to Maine.  Back in 2006, Erwin released Was It Like This, a debut album that was re-released in 2008 with bonus tracks.  Erwin’s songwriting and voice are certain to capture your attention, and the guitar work of no less than Danny Gatton in support helps to push a good-bordering-on-great album over the edge.


Was It Like This opens with “Sweet Boy,” a solid story-teller song built in a ménage of blues, country and roots rock.  Erwin fills the song with inflection and energy with a voice that makes you want to keep listening.  “Oh, Howard” blends murder, intrigue and the depths of alcoholism into a story about a mentor gone on the lam; an entertaining turn that truly displays Erwin’s talent for detail-oriented song craft.  “In Fall” is a work of art.  Erwin’s quiet song of remembrance is enhanced by Gatton, who fills and frolics in subtly magical measure.  “Walkin’ This Road” is great bluesy-folk with a gospel tinge and R&B backbeat with a one-day-at-a-time theme that is highly entertaining. 

“Uncomplicated Love” is a classic Christmas-themed ballad that’s lovelorn and weary yet hopeful all at once.  Erwin bemoans his search for a love that’s built on the basics.  The songwriting here is so classic in style you’ll swear it must be a cover.   “Born A Tourist” is a nine-minute blues/rock guitar clinic in the form of a song.  Starting in slow dynamic turns, Erwin and Gatton take listeners to frenetic heights before setting them gently back on earth again.  Particularly if you yourself play guitar, this song on its own makes the album worth checking out. 

Steve Erwin does a lot of things right on Was It Like This.  His voice, within his comfortable range, is very much worth spending some time with.  Erwin also has distinctive skill as a songwriter and storyteller, showing an attention to detail in his lyrics that is rare and even harder to make work well within the structure of a song.  The addition of Danny Gatton’s guitar work is a boon as well.  Gatton dashes and dances between Erwin’s melody lines with a flair that’s legendary, illuminating the songs with rhythms, sounds and fills that turn great songwriting into works of art.  

                                                                                        -Wildy Haskell

Review by Neil Fagan

Baltimore-based singer/songwriter, Steve Erwin recorded Was It Like This with the late, great guitarist Danny Gatton. His chops accentuate Erwin’s first-rate tunes so well, you’d think they’d been playing together all their lives.

The melancholy “In Fall” is a great example of Gatton’s licks and Erwin’s writing. He sums up the melancholia of autumn with simple phrasing, You’re sad and you never know why/ Each and every breeze can send up a sigh. “Sweet Boy” is a light stomp reminding a lover not to take a good man for granted. “ Walkin’ This Road” has the appropriate strut as Erwin ponders going down a “righteous” yet “ lonesome” road. Gatton really shines here.

“Uncomplicated Love” is a bluesy plea to Santa for a simpler life and love. “Born a Tourist” has a relentless beat and the funniest line on the album, I came into this Earth in a Hawaiian shirt/ And I’ll probably leave that way. It’s a good ending to a tasty six-pack of tunes. - Neil Fagan, Performing Songwriter Magazine