Following the commercial splash of Romeo’s Tune in 1979 and sporadic dalliances with major labels into the ’90s, singer-songwriter Steve Forbert has made a go of it as a rootsy cult hero in the realm of smaller, independent labels. On Any Old Time he sizes up songs identified with modern-country-music founder Jimmie Rodgers, selecting with care a dozen from the more than 100 tunes recorded by the Singing Brakeman between 1927 and 1935, when his career was cut short by TB.
The current-day Nashville resident has the skill and the artistry to personalize and revitalize this historic material; he steers clear of slavish imitations and reverential clichés. With his tuneful croak of a voice, Forbert takes a slow, considered, even methodical approach to Rodgers’s Depression-era lyrics. He cuts to the emotional core of railway hoboing on "Waiting on a Train" and makes for a convincing storyteller on "Gambling Barroom Blues." He’s less comfortable — apologetic even — when it comes to emulating Rodgers’s trademark yodel. But that’s a small defect in an otherwise fine tribute to one of Americana’s great original masters.