Steve Lacey,
Habits of a Lifetime
(Better Late Than Never)

(self-produced, 1999)

Steve Lacey of Ceilidh Friends goes solo with a mixed bag of styles and sounds in Habits of a Lifetime (Better Late Than Never). In the brief liner notes, Lacey says the title is intended to reflect his lifetime of listening to, playing and sharing music -- as well as how long it took him to get to recording it. It's a good effort; while there are weak areas, there are also tracks which shine.

Lacey starts with Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice," and while he doesn't sound like Dylan, there's a jaunty twang in his voice which is very pleasant, and the accompanying guitar-picking is nimble. The next track is one composed by Lacey called "He." It has an infectious upbeat pop rhythm, but the lyrics fall a little flat. At first I thought the "he" of the title might be a religious reference, but the refrain "Because he's a man / And he will do what he can" seems to undercut that interpretation. Furthermore, it is prosaic and doesn't support the rest of the lyrics.

The third track is another cover: Stan Rogers' "The Jeannie C." Lacey carries the song well in the beginning, and the backup vocals (by Ceilidh Friends) are hauntingly lovely. The timbre of his voice doesn't have quite enough weight to pull off the song entirely successfully in the middle, but he begins and finishes well. Next up is another of Lacey's compositions, "Death at Giant Mine," which tells the story of a tragedy during a local coal strike. This song tells a story we would never know otherwise, and the lyrics are sure and evocative -- this kind of storytelling song-writing could well be his forte. He also presents the point of view of the different people involved in the dispute in the refrain -- but reminds us that no matter your perspective, "Nine men didn't have to die that day at Giant Mine."

"Coffee is Just Fine" is a pleasant, mellow-sounding song about good friends who may be falling in love. It suits Lacey's voice, although of all the tracks, this one did the least for me. It is followed by one of the CD's highlights, however: deft guitar picking on the traditional "Soldier's Joy/Devil's Dream" with only spoons jigging along in accompaniment. It's hard to believe that human fingers are responsible for the cool clean precise sound. Lacey's "Yellowknife Evening" features strong, descriptive lyrics and a lilting melody, and it's nearly enough for me to pack my bags and head north.

"Song for Dawn" reminds me of the personal achievement story-songs of Fred Small in both melody and lyrics, about a woman (presumably his wife) "proving" herself by earning a degree over 20 years to show "the world that I'm a person too." The song is spirited and appealing, but as someone who wouldn't dream of devaluing a homemaker, I hope that she got her degree for herself first. "I Shall Not Care" has a good melody, but the lyrics are a bit self-pitying and awkward.

The next track is another instrumental track, "Lament For Owen Christy/Irish Settler's Lament" played on recorders with guitar accompaniment. The choice of recorder is good, adding warmth and richness to both melodies. I was expecting an earnest ballad about environmentalists in "The Greens" but what I got was a bluesy -- er -- greensy song about how life in the bog just ain't what it's cracked up to be, featuring a grinding bass line, a wailing harmonica and clever lyrics. Kermit the Frog never sounded like this.

Lacey wraps up with the title track, "Habits of a Lifetime," a gentle song about quotidian patterns and how they are an expression of our personalities. It's also about change and having to give up these patterns. Soprano sax and bell-like backup vocals underscore the song beautifully and give the CD a satisfying sense of completion.

Lacey's guitar playing and musical composition are his strengths; the poetry of his lyrics sometimes needs work and his choices of songs should be compatible with his voice to be most effective. Overall, if you like an eclectic folk sound, you might want to make a habit of Habits of a Lifetime.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]