Headlight Dreams

Released on the 7th May 2021 via BFD/The Orchard.
Catalogue number: BFD275. Produced by Kevin Shirley.

Steve Louw - Headlight Dreams, 7th May 2021
Steve Louw – Headlight Dreams, 7th May 2021

Headlight Dreams is the first international solo release by South African singer-songwriter Steve Louw. Helmed by internationally renowned producer Kevin Shirley (John Hiatt, Joe Bonamassa, The Black Crowes) and recorded in Nashville, Tennessee with top local musicians, the album sees Steve exploring new ground as a songwriter as he addresses issues near to his heart. Headlight Dreams sees Steve return to the studio after a seven-year break with a new set of songs and fresh musical inspiration.

Says Steve, “I’d taken an 8000-km motorcycle journey around Southern Africa and a lot of that space and time seeped into these songs. After weeks of riding I started to see things in slow motion and hyperspeed at once and I became mesmerised by the landscape. “I built the songs around my voice and the acoustic guitar so that the listener would be drawn into a journey through broken open landscapes, seeing images in the peripheral half- light while mesmerised by beams of light . . . time passing, slowing, stopping, speeding, with shadows playing just outside of the picture frame.”

Rough Trade

Tracks

  1. Crazy River (3:36)
  2. Wind In Your Hair (4:09)
  3. Don’t Wait (4:01)
  4. Train Don’t Run (7:33)
  5. Seven Roses (4:45)
  6. Get Out Of My Heart (4:08)
  7. The Lost And Found (2:56)
  8. Headlight Dreams (5:13)
  9. Heavy Weather (3:07)
  10. Queen Bee Maybe (4:34)

All songs composed by Steve Louw.

Musicians

  • Steve Louw: vocals, acoustic guitar
  • Rob McNelley: electric guitars
  • Kevin McKendree: piano, Hammond organ
  • Alison Prestwood: bass guitar
  • Greg Morrow: drums and percussion
  • Joe Bonamassa: lead guitar on “Wind In Your Hair”

Liner Notes

“ONE THING’S CLEAR, IT’S JUST GREAT TO BE ALIVE”

Steve Louw sings those words on “Don’t Wait,” a song that arrives not more than a few tunes into Headlight Dreams, the first album the singer/ songwriter has released in quite some time. Nearly thirteen years, to be precise. Louw entered a period of relative quiet after 2008’s Trancas Canyon and that extended hiatus is crucial to understanding why Headlight Dreams feels as rich and resonant as it does. 

Listen closely to Headlight Dreams, it’s possible to hear how the songs don’t seem rushed or hurried. Each of the ten tunes is a sturdy artifact, built upon solid melodic bones and bearing words that evidence Louw’s maturity without touting it. There’s a sense of wisdom and grace that flows throughout the record, emotions that add depth to widescreen rockers that stir up memories of the kind of majestic big music that galvanized politically-conscious audiences in the 1980s and 1990s. Louw is part of that lineage but Headlight Dreams is an album that he couldn’t have made back when he was fronting either All Night Radio or Big Sky, nervy open-hearted outfits who helped make his reputation in his native South Africa. There are sprightly numbers here, to be sure, but Louw is comfortable with how his skin has weathered; he may bear a few scars but he wears them proudly. 

Headlight Dreams is filled with the kind of polish and punch that derives from a lifetime of dedication to craft, but that doesn’t mean those scars aren’t present in his music. They’re evident in the words he sings on the searching “Seven Roses” or the surging anthem “Headlight Dreams,” which feels as wide, endless and desperate as a deserted stretch of highway. But they’re also apparent on happier moments such as “Crazy River,” a boundlessly romantic and hopeful song that functions as an optimistic keynote for this collection of songs: its sense of gratitude feels earned.

Gratitude is also an appropriate emotion for an album that exists at the fortunate intersection of spontaneity and craft. Louw’s sculpted compositions were captured swiftly, so they retain a sense of freshness. Much of this is due to Louw placing his trust in Kevin Shirley, a longtime friend, and collaborator who produced Headlight Dreams at Ocean Way in Nashville, Tennessee. Shirley assembled a crew of studio pros, including Grammy nominated keyboardist Kevin McKendree, guitarist Rob McNelley, bassist Alison Prestwood and drummer Greg Morrow to support Louw, surrounding his old pal with a sympathetic crew who would instinctively know how to flesh out his compositions. On one occasion, he invited a superstar colleague into the studio. Joe Bonamassa, America’s heir apparent to the blues-rock throne occupied by Eric Clapton, appears on “Wind In Your Hair,” elevating its buoyant and rough-hewn romance with his lovely, lyrical solo. 

Steve Louw, October 2020
Steve Louw, October 2020

Bonamassa’s cameo crystalizes how the blend of new and familiar on Headlight Dreams winds up quite beguiling. The album sounds crisp and bright, a byproduct of its quick recording, but it’s impossible to ignore how the entire proceedings beat to a passionate heart. That soulfulness rises to the surface on the slower songs, such as the simmering “Get Out Of My Heart,” but it’s also palpable on the near-rockabilly bop of the frenetic “The Lost and Found” and “Heavy Weather,” an insistent and indignant protest song disguised as an infectious blues. 

“Heavy Weather” provides a direct line to the earliest years of Steve Louw, when he was singing in favor of social justice, but no knowledge of his prior work is needed to have Headlight Dreams resonate deeply. Like all meaningful art, it exists entirely in the present, playing upon the past, shared experiences, and personal insight to create an experience that’s simultaneously personal and universal. 

Stephen Thomas Erlewine 

The Stories Behind The Songs

Crazy River

Crazy River

I took a long canoe trip down the Colorado River, through the Grand Canyon and out again. It was a very spacy spiritual place and it felt like I was on a journey to the middle of the earth . . . I wrote this after the trip.

On one level the song is about the river trip and the journey deep inside the raw power and beating heart of nature, but it also reflects on time, our time on Earth, how we experience it, and how the bonds of deep personal relationships with our fellow travellers nurture our souls.

I played the acoustic guitar using a few African-style riffs and the band picked up on that feel. Guitarist Rob McNelley contributed beautiful slide guitar.

Wind In Your Hair

Wind In Your Hair

The song deals with how love changes and builds between two people as life throws up detours and bridges. It’s a love story exploring how two people who love each other but have different needs and desires travel through their life and love. The chorus always kicks back to the joy of love, but the verses take you through a journey of rough and smooth roads and winding passes – and ends at the place they set out for.

I love the way the acoustic guitar opens the song and then the band kicks in with a great tom fill. US guitar legend Joe Bonamassa was in the studio and played a killer solo as he heard the track for the first time.

Don’t Wait

The chorus says it all:

“Don’t leave it too late (don’t wait)
‘Til you’re standing in front of hell’s gates (don’t wait)
With a pocket full of loose change (don’t wait)
Feeling lost and strange”

Time is moving and so are you – but it’s never too late to get to where you want to go . . .

The song’s about someone on a strange road trip out on roads far from the mainstream, though glimpses of towns keep showing themselves. Reflecting on what he’s been and wished he hadn’t seen, he heads into town . . . and leaves again, back on track. It’s about how we hold our destiny in our own hands, how it’s never too late to be your dream, and how if you don’t stop, you keep moving forward.

Train Don’t Run

My grandfather was a railroadman and in the 1930s my father rode trains looking for work. To me, trains symbolise our attempts to bend nature to our will – and we’re seeing that trying to do that will never work. Silence will always return to the plains, the wind will blow, tracks will crumble and the earth will breathe again. This song has the wide open plains in it; dry cracked earth and a broken land.

The song builds from a driving acoustic guitar and hypnotic bassline to a haunting guitar solo by Rob. The production brings out the relentlessness of the song and of what we inflict on our planet.

Seven Roses

This song came out pretty much fully-formed the first time I played it on guitar and has a great chorus. I wrote it from the perspective of realising too late that love can’t be taken for granted – it’s strange that sometimes you can see that clearly only once it’s too late for it to be of any use. Love is fragile and often we don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone:

“I had it all, I had nothing left to do
I let it fall right through my fingers”

Too drunk to leave the bar, he tries to figure out his road ahead . . .

The band kicks the door down in the intro and then the song is built around the vocal and acoustic guitar in the verses.

Get Out Of My Heart

Get Out Of My Heart

I like the opening line: “I’d rather walk than drive another mile with you.” Two people who can’t figure out if they love or hate each other, or both . . . It’s different to all the other songs but the in-your-face vocal, acoustic guitar riff and weird time signature sucks you into their personal mayhem.

I only had the “get out of my heart” line when I started writing this song, singing along to power chords and a Bo Diddley-type beat, and later wrote the verses. I thought of the song as a rocker and a cry in the dark. We played it that way live and it went down well but I felt the song was too linear for the lyric and I put it aside.

About a week before going into the studio I tried playing and singing the chorus in a different time signature and suddenly the song took on the mood of the lyric, which is pretty dark – and the story  came into stark relief.

Once we got the time signature nailed down in the studio I found I could sing the lyrics with the space it needed. I love the sound of the vocal.

The Lost And Found

I’ve always been intrigued by lost-and-found counters and the crazy stuff that gets handed in. Many years ago I took a two-month trip around America on the Greyhound bus. For $99 you could travel as much you liked for three months – transport and accomodation in one package! The bus stations were always in the seedy parts of town and some had lost-and-found counters with weird stuff that had been left on a bus. Who loses a stuffed crocodile on a bus?

I liked the image of someone going to a lost-and-found counter to see if a broken heart found lying around town had been turned in. Seeing  a broken heart on the shelf is a hilarious image, and I liked the idea  of someone just discarding a heart when they were done with it.

The musicians just tear it up on this tune and don’t let up until the last bar. It feels like a great band playing a Saturday-night gig in a small town in a distant time. I love the way the acoustic guitar drives the stinging electric guitar riffs laid down by Rob on a vintage Fender Jazzmaster.

Headlight Dreams

About a renegade couple running headlong into their future, whatever that may hold – tripping down their road, criss-crossing the lines of the law as they drive into their dream . . . You know it’s not going to end well.

I was looking back and thinking about all of the crazy stuff I’d done when I was younger. I loved the feeling of “full speed ahead, captain!” as you reach out for your dream. I lot of that happened in badly driven cars in altered states of consciousness and had a dreamlike quality . . .

I’d read that children’s minds react similarly to those of adults on acid. I was enthralled to see the world through my own children’s eyes as I could see how they saw the world in a wonderous way. They’re grown now and in this song I’m reaching back.

Heavy Weather

I wrote this a few years ago at a time when major cities were running out of water due to climate change. The character is walking through dust and gloom on dried-out plains, seeing the landscape change before his eyes. He feels his fear . . .

I was thinking of the beauty of Robert Johnson’s songs and how, in their simplicity and the power of his playing and singing, they captured the time and landscape. Weather is always on our minds. It’s out of our control and can be both beautiful and scary.

We live in a time when natural systems that have taken thousands of years to evolve are being destroyed, and I wanted to write about that. I love the  sound of a nightjar calling in the night – it’s comforting in an otherwise scary, dark night and holds hope and promise.

The syncopated acoustic guitar riff and Rob’s killer solo (played on a beautiful Gibson 335 guitar) takes you into that realm.

Queen Bee Maybe

I was working on this song and had two verses but no chorus when a swarm of bees arrived to move into the roof of my house. I called the beekeeper and he came at sunset. He took the queen bee out of the swarm, put her in his wooden box and the swarm followed her in. I had my chorus! It fitted the song perfectly. A great Hammond organ solo by Kev McHendry and swampy guitars create a great stew.

This is the first song we cut in Nashville and it captured the mood of the album, centered around my voice and acoustic guitar. The band settled into the groove quickly and within an hour we had it down. We ended up using the working mix we used while tracking and you can hear the song breathe as Kevin adjusts the faders during the take.

Lyrics

CRAZY RIVER
(Recorded February 28, 2020)

Floating down this long crazy river
From the mountains, down to the sea
I’m reading this slow water
A billion years of history
I’m rolling, I’m rolling, I’m rolling
With spirits tonight
I’m going, I’m going, I’m going
To a place that has no time

Down to Vegas, on through the border
Senorita’s calling out to me
Round the fire, a full moon rising
Through the smoke of this fine weed
I’m rolling, I’m rolling, I’m rolling
With spirits tonight
I’m going, I’m going, I’m going
To a place that has no time

Every time I close my eyes and wonder
Where we’ll end up, where the miles lead
We keep moving until we shake out
Our lives and our destiny
I’ll find my soul, lose control
Of everything we left behind
I’ll take a ride on this moonlit night
To a place that has no time

I’m rolling, I’m rolling, I’m rolling
With spirits tonight
I’m going, I’m going, I’m going
To a place that has no time

Steve Louw, October 2020
Steve Louw, October 2020

WIND IN YOUR HAIR
(Recorded February 29, 2020)

She gave me diamonds, she gave me dirt
She gave me back, my torn shirt
She gave me some things that I don’t really need
She can give me nothing, yeah just watch me bleed

I look down the road, I see you standing there
With the sunlight on your face and the wind in your hair

Take me in darling, hold me close to your heart
You’ve always been, yeah the one
Right from the start
You’ve always been, a sight for my sore eyes
You’ve always seen, right through the lies

I look down the road, I see you standing there
With the sunlight on your face and the wind in your hair

She can give me love, and a heart that’s mine
Take it all away from me, at any time
I’ve walked with you through snow,
across burning sand
I’ve walked through deep water
I reached dry land

I look down the road I see you standing there
With the sunlight on your face and the wind in your hair

Oh darling take me in, hold me close to your heart
You’ve always been the one

I look down the road I see you standing there

DON’T WAIT
(Recorded February 29, 2020)

Been driving back roads lost and out of sight
I can see the glow of faint city lights
Been wearing clothes that don’t fit
I’m moving slow feeling half lit
Don’t leave it too late
‘Til you’re standing in front of Hell’s gates
With a pocket full of loose change
Feeling lost and strange

You can call me Ace or you can call me King
If I can find a place that’s out of this wind
Draw you a map, I’ll explain
That the road back may be filled with pain
Don’t leave it too late
‘Til you’re standing in front of Hell’s gates
With a pocket full of loose change
Feeling lost and strange

If I’m a shadow of my former self
Well, I’m still better off
Than being someone else
I’ve seen people do things
That they can’t explain
I’ve seen bad and good
Even seen dry rain
Don’t leave it too late
‘Til you’re standing in front of Hell’s gates
With a pocket full of loose change
Feeling lost and strange

This concierge looks more dead than alive
Says the only way out of here is when it’s bone dry
Think I’ll drop a gear down into four-wheel drive
One thing’s clear, it’s just great to be alive
Don’t leave it too late
‘Til you’re standing in front of Hell’s gates
With a pocket full of loose change
Feeling lost and strange

TRAIN DON’T RUN
(Recorded February 27, 2020)

The wind blows across empty plains
That hold so many bones
The rails glow years since the rain
Horses roam on broken stones
Train don’t run round here no more
Train is gone for us all

Put down a coin on the track
Saw silver turn through black
Seeds thrown all come back
Haunt the earth broken and cracked
Train don’t run round here no more
Train won’t come for us all

I can help you cross if you’ll let me
Spirits roam across this broken land
What’s been lost you can see
Count the cost can’t understand
Train don’t run round here no more
Train is gone for us all

Steve Louw
Steve Louw

SEVEN ROSES
(Recorded February 27, 2020)

I had it all, I had nothing left to do
I let it fall, right through
My fingers, oh no, it lingers then it goes
Figures you never know when you got it good
Seven roses on your heart, seven ways for us to part
Seven days have been so hard without you
Seven roses on your heart
Seven ways how to play these cards
Seven days have been so hard without you

Won’t you let me explain, I know it goes against the grain
Who knows if this pain will be understood?
Since you left me, I’ve been looking back
Down this lonely one-way track
I can’t see through the black, a trace of you
Seven roses on your heart, seven ways for us to part
Seven days have been so hard without you
Seven roses on your heart
Seven ways how to play these cards
Seven days have been so hard without you

Just like the sun and the moon
Always one going to shine on you
Who knows if that’s true, or if they’re gone for good?
I’m sitting here marooned
On a dark and stormy afternoon
I would leave this cool saloon if I could
Seven roses on your heart, seven ways for us to part
Seven days have been so hard without you
Seven roses on your heart
Seven ways how to play these cards
Seven days haven’t been so hard without you

GET OUT OF MY HEART
(Recorded February 28, 2020)

I’d rather walk than drive another mile with you
More dead than alive, I need room to move
To get you out of my heart, won’t you let me be
Right from the start, you let me bleed
Keep you out of my heart
Keep you out of my mind
Since we’ve been apart
I can see I was blind

No way of knowing if this turns out bad or good
Got to get going, I’m heading for the woods
Keep you out of my heart
Keep you out of my mind
Since we’ve been apart
I can see I was blind

You set me free, and I keep crawling back
Only thing that we do, stay on this one-way track
Keep you out of my heart
Keep you out of my mind
Since we’re apart
I can see I was blind

I’m lying across this cold empty bed
I’m not feeling lost, I’m sleeping like the dead
First time since the start that I got peace of mind
Stay out of my heart
For the last time
Keep you out of my heart
Keep you out of my mind
Since we’ve been apart
I can see I was blind

THE LOST AND FOUND
(Recorded February 28, 2020)

We played all night turned up loud
I sang to you, saw you in the crowd
Drank too much cheap red wine
Making love under the pine
Only thing to do, get down to the lost and found
It’s the kind of thing you’d do
Leave my heart laying around town

You’d been burnt, ripped my heart
Yeah, you’d been hurt, torn apart
Your heartbeat it don’t make a sound
I’m on the street one foot on the ground
One thing left to do, get down to the lost and found
It’s the kind of thing you’d do
Leave my heart laying around town

On the bus misunderstood
I’d had enough, you’re just no good
I looked you up and you put me down
Cashed out my luck and I left town
One thing left to do, get down to the lost and found
It’s the kind of thing you’d do
Leave my heart laying around town

I was ready to deal with the devil again
If you would heal me, I’d take a little pain
What I was looking for, but I couldn’t find
Just a little more before I lose my mind
Only thing to do, get down to the lost and found
It’s the kind of thing you’d do
Leave my heart laying around town
It’s the kind of thing you’d do
Leave my heart laying on the ground
It’s the kind of thing you’d do
Leave my heart laying around town

HEADLIGHT DREAMS
(Recorded February 29, 2020)

She was from the country
Country I’d never seen
Took me to places that I’d never been
Called me a dark horse
She was one of a kind
I look out of this window
I’m right back in that time

Hard to know, hard to see
We were running blind, we were running free
With nothing but our dreams
In the pockets of our jeans
They’re lit up in the headlight beams
Through this dirty windshield, you can see
them gleam

I’d been told about her
She lived beyond the law
I don’t know what I was thinking
And let myself in for
I took your communion
And I set out to find
The promise of redemption
That was hardly well defined
Hard to know, hard to see
We were running blind; we were running free

With nothing but our dreams
In the pockets of our jeans
They’re lit up in the headlight beams
Through this dirty windshield, you can
see them gleam

Up here in the mountains
Above the clouds
The sheep are lazing
Nights the dog’s howl
You left my heart
Times you’re back in my mind
It was a dangerous situation
We were running blind

Hard to know, hard to see
We were running blind; we were running free
With nothing but our dreams
In the pockets of our jeans
They’re lit up in the headlight beams
Through this dirty windshield, you can see
them gleam

Hard to know hard to see
We were running blind
We were running free
Oh, with nothing, nothing but our dreams
In the pockets of our jeans
Hard to know, hard to see
We were running blind
We were running free

The band in the studio, February 2020
The band in the studio, February 2020

HEAVY WEATHER
(Recorded February 28, 2020)

I’ve been down this road long before
‘Cause I don’t know what I was looking for
Coming heavy weather, that’s not turning back
I’ve crossed rivers that were just dry sand
Asked for deliverance from this promised land
Coming heavy weather, that’s not turning back
It’s been this way since before the flood
Plains cracked and stained and dried in blood
Coming heavy weather, that’s not turning back

My eyes can see into the gloom
It looks to me like one step from doom
Coming heavy weather, that’s not turning back
Well, I don’t know which one is worse
This coming storm or this land’s curse
Coming heavy weather, that’s not turning back

The leather walked out my shoes
Hear people talk ‘bout the dry spell news
Coming heavy weather, that’s not turning back
The nightjar is calling a sweet lonesome sound
My soul is falling tumblin’ down
Coming heavy weather, that’s not turning back
Coming heavy weather, right down this track
Coming heavy weather, that’s not turning back

QUEEN BEE MAYBE
(Recorded February 27, 2020)

Cold as hell, nothing I can do
In deep water with no room to move
In a house of smoke and mirrors
Getting out will be hard
The hand I’m holding dealt
From a stacked deck of cards
You’re a queen, my queen bee maybe
I’ll stick with you, ‘til the sun goes down

You hang me out to dry, I’m flapping in the wind
Won’t you come on, let me back in?
Just to take a last look around
I’ll taste your honey, I’m coming down
You’re a queen, my queen bee maybe
I’ll stick with you, ‘til the sun goes down

Crawling through the jungle without a map in my hand
Crossing muddy waters to get to dry land
Been to hell and back to get closer to you
This hand I’m holding it might lose
You’re a queen, my queen bee maybe
I’ll stick with you, ‘til the sun goes down

Hell got no fury better than you
There is only one thing I got left to do
Getting back to you is going to be hard
I’m glad I got to stack these cards
You’re a queen, my queen bee maybe
I’ll stick with you, ‘til the sun goes down

Steve Louw - Headlight Dreams
Back cover: Steve Louw – Headlight Dreams

Credits

Produced by Kevin Shirley
Recorded at Ocean Way Studios, Nashville, TN
Engineer: Austin Atwood
Mixed by Kevin Shirley at Ocean Way Studios, Nashville, TN and The Cave Australia, Sydney
Mastered by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering, Portland, ME

All songs written by Steve Louw
©2020 ascap/slosongs/SonyATV

Cover photo: Wes Hicks
Liner notes: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Design by Kate Moss, Moonshine Design

Thanks to Kev who has had my back for so many years,
Guy Henderson, and everyone at SonyATV Australia.

With love to Blom, Katie, Nini and Lili

Reviews & Press Releases

Discography

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