- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2003

Steve Poltz

“Chinese Vacation”

98 Pounder

Steve Poltz may be pals with Jewel, co-writing her corny smash hit “You Were Meant for Me,” but don’t hold that against him.

Mr. Poltz’s sophomore album, “Chinese Vacation,” is smart and engrossing, with lots of beery country hooks. He’s also funnier than any singer-songwriter should be allowed to be.

An acoustic-playing troubadour — a Townes Van Zandt with Nick Lowe’s pop sensibility — Mr. Poltz has the impish sense of humor that lands mouthy but harmless boys in Saturday detention and possibly not-so-harmless men in the relationship doghouse — after a slap, or a drink, in the face or two.

In the kiss-off to a troublemaking lover that is the title track, Mr. Poltz asks his significant other, whom he’s planning to ship off to China, “What are you trying to feed me / Is it pork or is it poodle?”

“I only had eight lives / Most cats got nine / So I skipped out on bungee jumping / Just this time,” he sings on “10 Chances.” Mr. Poltz may favor limericks with one-liners, but at bottom he’s a hopeless romantic, trying to couch apologies in humor, because nothing mollifies like laughs.

There are lots of them on “Chinese Vacation,” an album that’s shorter and more focused than his 1998 debut, “One Left Shoe.” It opens (“Friendly Fire”) and closes (“Give You Up for Lent”) with full-bodied electric rockers, but in between, the songs are mostly sparse and frugal, leavened with pockets of pedal and steel and electric keyboards.

Even when he’s heartfelt and heartbroken, as on “Lost Without You,” smiles aren’t far behind. On “Stax,” he professes to miss his gal but can’t bring himself to move beyond concern for his favorite soul records. (“Leave me the Motown and the Stax.”)

“I thought you were intellectual / But you were just pseudo / I’m gonna send you to Acapulco / To go on and cook some menudo,” Mr. Poltz sings on “Lent.”

Go ahead and try to smack Steve Poltz — do it before you wind up on a ship to Beijing.

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