Little Wins by Steve Everett | Album Review
Everett’s fourth outing brings a little bit of country to his Jason Mraz-like approach to the singer/songwriter genre.
One huge perk of living in the Nashville area is discovering up-and-coming or underground singer/songwriters in the business. I went to a songwriter’s circle back in October 2022 to see Gabe Lee play and just happened to see Everett come on prior to Lee’s performance. I was impressed by Steve’s stage presence. His upbeat and goofy personality gave the needed spark to his tracks that would have otherwise felt a little generic in tone. In looking back at his discography for an introduction to his work, I gravitated toward his fourth album Little Wins. I enjoyed his live performance of “What’s In the Well” and wanted to hear the album recording alongside the rest of the album.
The opens with the lead single “What’s In the Well”. The song is very much a country-pop diddy. Everett’s vocals remind me quite a bit of Jason Mraz. I think his sense of humor lyrically also has some parallels to Mraz’s work as well. The song centers around the chorus’s adage, “What’s in the well comes up in the bucket.” Each verse shows a different side to things we are afraid to come to light. This goes from childhood mischief to the lewd activity of teens and finally to the unspoken feelings towards a childhood crush. All these pair well against the overarching theme Everett has written, “What’s in the well comes up in the bucket/ You can waste time but it don't stop runnin’/ Seasons change but it won′t change nothin’.”
We continue the jaunty rock sound on “Victoria”. I think if you enjoy the soft rock edge of artists like Matt Nathanson, then you will get a kick out of this track. It’s got a bright, clean sound that makes me think of college radio back in the late 2000s/early 2010s. The organ is a welcomed layer to this song. Steve recalls his misguided longing for the main character Victoria. Her hot and cold emotions toward him have made him twisted in his love for her, “You made me swear that I wouldn’t fall/ I said I wouldn′t but I wasn’t sure/ Never knew it would move so fast/ But your heart don′t care that you’ve got a plan/ Last time I left I was floating′ so high/ I missed the goodbye your eyes/ Cut me loose but if it’s meant to be/ You can’t hide a flower from a honey bee.”
“Homeroom” has a very similar sound to the last two tracks. It’s a cute ode to young love back in school. I do think this one feels a little generic after coming from the last two songs. The song has a Jason Mraz quality with its playful pop-rock sound. The lyrics, “Laughin’ it off when you kissed my buddies/ Playin’ the long game askin’ your Dad for a tip or two/ It was a hell of a trip tryin’ to make you fall in homeroom,” play well into that child-like innocence that Steve is aiming for. It’s not personally my favorite, but I think that emotionally Everett hits the nail on the head here.
Steve continues his playful attitude on “Finally Find It”. I don’t like how the music and vocals come together in the chorus. The punctuated guitar work and organ just kind of clash with Everett’s vocals. It feels very cluttered. Here, he searches for the confidence to make the first move on the woman he is attracted to. Liquid courage takes hold of Everett to give him persuasion to make the first move, “Now that I’m loose there’s a pitcher of youth/ & I′ma pour a couple tall ones yeah/ And head over to you, I got something to prove…I′ve been looking for someone like you for a long time.” I could take or leave this song.
“Burn It Out” sounds very similar to the first three tracks on the album. The use of electric guitars and Hammond organ have begun to feel a bit one note at this point. That said, it’s not a bad-sounding track. Everett looks to the current trajectory and waxes on how his life might end up. The song’s bridge, “I can see myself a husband with a daughter/ I can see myself a lush who dies alone/ In between em both’s my mother & my father/Beggin’ me to pick a road,” is a sheds more light on how his current lifestyle might turn out. I do think the more playful nature of this track does give it a bit more of a lighthearted vibe.
“New Hometown” feels much more like 2000s country radio than some of the other songs on here. While there isn’t much in the way variation in his sound from the prior tracks, I do think this one stands out more than some of the others. He treads out of the territory of friendship and into the dangerous lands of love with a woman whom he had been friends with up to this point. This rolling boiling of his crush is too much to hold in as he confesses his feelings to her, “Gotta say what I’m feeling/ I know we had a deal but/ I’d rather break a promise than a heart/ First I can remember/ I’m thinkin’ bout forever/ It’s getting’ hard to breathe when we’re apart.” I do think the radio-friendly country sound keeps this song from feeling a bit too on the noise.
“Cloud of Dust” is a welcomed change from his rock/country sound that has dominated the album from this point. Again, this song has a country flair to it that reminds me of say a Tim McGraw or Sheryl Crow song from the 2000s. Everett speaks on the toll his lifestyle he leads as a musician takes on his partners, “I ain’t held a job down since late ‘14/ Slingin pizza twice a day and writing in between/ Up all night with alcohol my friends and my guitar/ My girlfriend in my bed alone just wondering where things are.” This makes getting close to him difficult as he’s out the door just as you start connecting. I appreciate the switch from the more cutesy love song into realistic territory.
We’re back to pop-rock on “Just an Opinion”. This reminds me a lot of the sound of bands like The All-American Rejects (albeit with a country twang). If you’re a fan of that sound, then you will enjoy this song. I wish the thesis statement of different things being just someone’s opinion was a bit more developed. As it stands, I don’t find much in the way of a connection between the elements of the verses and the chorus. It’s not a bad song. I just think a little more interconnection between the “what’s” and “how’s” would make the song much stronger.
“Belivin’” has a subtle country wash that coats the entire track. Again, I think the sound (with its electric guitars and organ) is a bit too similar to much of the other material that came before to stand out on its own sonically. I do think this is one of the stronger songs lyrically on the album. Everett dives into the positives and negatives of faith, listening, and arguing quite eloquently, “The thing about believin’ is that it’s harder in the dark/ It can lead you like a beacon or it can harden your heart/ It can save you when you need it or run away when it’s mistreated/ And if you try to force-feed it turns sour when it’s eaten.”
“Going On 16” is more of the same that we have heard on the front half of the album. While its clean, powerful energy is made to get you moving, I do wish there was a little more variety to some of these rock/country tracks than what we have here. I do think his celebration of this continued youth works much better with this sound. His college-era habits have yet to die, “29 going on 16 listening to old Blink/ Still trying to keep my room clean/ Cruising up and down main street curfew is in 30/ Trying to get you in the backseat/ Crashed the party but I still don’t know why/ Graduated but I still drink Busch light.” The brightness of his pop-rock meets country sound amplifies the wild nature of his character nicely. It may not be a favorite, but I do think it's a stronger player on this project.
The album’s closer is the slightly spiritually flavored acoustic “The Only Way”. I really like the warmth that the layered vocals give this song. It’s full and inviting sounding. Steven explores the importance of home and what makes a home. His need to preserve this place for his children outweighs the offers to sell the home, “Cause there’s a million ways that you can build a house/ And as many you can use to tear it down/ You can fill it up with treasures that you find along the road/ But love’s the only way to build a home.” Both the spiritual tone and softer treatment do a great job to underline the importance of Everett’s message.
In many ways, Steve’s work here reminds me of artists like Matt Nathanson, Jason Mraz, or Gavin DeGraw. There is a lightness to all his work that brings out that uplifting yet mellow vibe that those artists have. My biggest complaint about this album is its lack of variety sonically. Many of the songs begin to sound a little too familiar by the time you make it halfway through the record. I do think his songwriting has a universal tone that almost anyone can connect to. The catchy songs grab you while the others seem to fall into the background. I recommend giving the highlights a listen and then testing the rest out to see your thoughts. I will say, that if Everett ever comes to town you should see him live. He really brings the songs alive with his personable character and charisma on stage. My overall breakdown of Little Wins:
Loved it: “What’s In the Well”, “New Hometown”, “Cloud of Dust”, “The Only Way”
Liked it: “Victoria”, “Burn It Out”, “Just an Opinion”, “Belivin’”, “Going On 16”
Disliked it: “Homeroom” & “Finally Find It
My overall rating: 5.5 out of 10.