July 06, 1987 12:00 PM

Little Steven

Steve Van Zandt has plenty of credentials. He was co-founder of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and a longtime member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. He has also produced records by Springsteen, Gary U.S. Bonds and Lone Justice. This album, however, is a lot more interesting as a political tract than as music. Van Zandt’s involvements are wide, including work for such groups as Artists United Against Apartheid, the United Nations and Amnesty International. He is not above smaller-scale projects either, having appeared in 1985 at a benefit for fire victims in Passaic, N.J. All of these concerns seem to have overwhelmed his musical sense. His third solo album includes songs protesting mistreatment of South African blacks, American Indians, Nicaraguans and a lot of other people, though it’s hard to say exactly who sometimes. Van Zandt (whose pseudonym “Little Steven” seems wildly inappropriate in this context) can raise a vivid image, as in a meditation on America as a sanctuary for freedom: “Somebody tell me/ What’s that lady standing in all that water for?” He can also mix his metaphors to beat the band: “Like sheep to the slaughter/ We keep the fat cats fat/ What people need, what people want/ When we gonna start talkin’ ’bout that?” He doesn’t beat the band otherwise, though, since the music behind all the philosophizing is stentorian rock in which it’s hard to differentiate between tracks, despite appearances by such performers as Springsteen and Ruben Blades. It would in fact be possible to agree with all the political views reflected on this album and still say, “Yes, Steve, but couldn’t you just put it in a pamphlet?” (Manhattan)

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