Steve Moakler gained some early notice as a solid, down-to-earth songwriter, with cuts like Dierks Bentley’s “Riser” and Ashley Monroe’s “If Love Was Fair,” from her acclaimed album “The Blade.” With his recently released project “Born Ready,” Moakler shows that he’s likely the best purveyor of his own material, which leans to the gritty, working class side of life. The Pittsburgh-raised singer interprets his material in a voice that speaks of been-there experience, with an edge that’s as blue collar credible as a bottle of Iron City brew.
The title track sets the mood accordingly, an ode to the truck drivers who hit the road daily that’s also a meditation on the grind-it-out life of a traveling singer/songwriter. “We’re the day breakers/we’re the night trains,” Moakler writes. “Raised on the road just two hands holding on steady/born ready.” Existence on the road similarly gets addressed on “One More Troubadour,” a song equal parts poignancy and downright truth.
If anything sets Moakler apart from the pack, it is that “truth” element. He doesn’t write fantasy-filled tunes of ideal summers and perfect romances. Instead, his songs depict the ups and downs of everyday life, implementing plain-spoken language along with well-chosen metaphors. A fine example is “Breaking New Ground,” which begins with a descriptive picture, “Shovel on my hands/sweat on my shirt.” Talk about setting the stage. Further into the song, Moakler hands down a tale of working man philosophy, stating that it’s certainly not easy breaking new ground and advising that you have to dig deep if you’re looking for life’s payoff. The closest he might come to rosy optimism comes with “Hard Not to Love It,” a tribute to sticking with it and overcoming tough roadblocks set to a jaunty beat. “It if wasn’t for heartbreak/we wouldn’t have a story now” stands as a particularly nice line. On the same real-life note, “Thirty” gets to the heart of, well, turning that milestone age.
Of the dozen tracks, the lone weakness is “Chesney,” which appeared much too similar to Eric Church’s “Springsteen” in melody and subject matter. Overall, though, “Born Ready” is a standout piece of work. Moakler has a few albums under his tool belt, but this looms as the one that will really connect with an audience that’s itself “ready” for a convincing and alternative voice. Put this down on your list.