Friday, December 14, 2012

Chris Stamey: "Lovesick Blues" (2013) CD Review

Chris Stamey is most well known as one of the founders of the dBs. He recorded a couple of albums with the band in the early 1980s before embarking on a solo career.  And then this past June, the dBs released Falling Off The Sky, the band's first album with the original lineup since 1982's Repercussion. It's an excellent album, and is on my list of the ten best of 2012. Chris Stamey is not one to relax, however, and now he is releasing a new solo album titled Lovesick Blues.

This solo material is quite a bit different from the dBs album. It's certainly more in the singer/songwriter vein, but with some gorgeous pop sounds. This is not a folk album. There is a beauty to so many of these tracks, particularly in something like the acoustic "Wintertime" (with lines like, "I hold you from the cold/You tell me a story you already told/And it's wintertime/And the days grow short"). This album really has its own sound, though the vocals remind me at times of some 1960s pop, as there is something of an innocence there, like a fresh look at the world. And yet there is also wisdom and experience, a voice that is well traveled. It's an interesting combination, and then a song like "Occasional Shivers" has a definite late-night lounge or jazz room feel.  There is certainly a lot to enjoy on this CD.


Lovesick Blues opens with "Skin," an interesting love song that I am into immediately. Chris Stamey's voice on this one, and the way he sings it, remind me of some of the sweeter songs by Phish (like "Silent In The Morning"). The lyrics too have something of a Phish feel. Like these lines, which begin the song: "I slip out of my skin/That's how it begins/And drift across the room into you/You look a bit surprised." And these: "I look like I'm asleep/But I'm just incomplete/I watch myself the way that you do." This song feels like morning, bright with possibilities.  "We see everything twice/We see it once as me and once as you."  I also like the percussion on this tune. It's a really sweet song to open the album.


There is something beautiful about "London." It's this connection between singer and the person he sings to, and the emotion in Stamey's honest delivery. It's like an intimate letter, and interestingly it's the mundane details that make it feel intimate. Like trying to create an accurate picture to share with the person, to feel closer.  Here is a taste of the lyrics: "Why don't you stay home/I'll call you when I get up/I've been thirteen hours on the motorway/I think the bass player quit/I've got three more weeks of overdubs." At the end, the vocals fade as the strings become almost harsh, a revisiting of the song's opening moments, giving the song a circular feel, as if things won't change.

"You n Me n XTC"

"You n Me n XTC" has a ridiculous and infectious joy, particularly in its chorus.  Being a fan of road trips and living in Los Angeles, I particularly enjoyed these lines: "We lost the brakes around Santa Fe/And the 8-track blew later that same day/By the time we got to Los Angeles/There was nothing left of our sanity." So they'll fit right in then. (And you can add this song to the list of tunes that mention Hollywood and Vine.) This song reminds me a bit of "Learning To Fly" by Tom Petty. It also makes me think that I need to get my turntable fixed, as all my XTC stuff is on vinyl.

Seamus Kenney plays trombone on this track.

"The Room Above The Bookstore"

I'm a huge Leonard Cohen fan, and one certain way to get my attention is to make a reference to him or his music. The first line of "The Room Above The Bookstore" is "It's a Leonard Cohen morning," so I'm drawn in immediately. Of course, mentioning him can be dangerous, because it sets expectations high, and lyrically no one can match him. So now I'm listening more attentively, more critically, particularly to the song's imagery.

Here is a taste of the lyrics: "And you talk about last evening/In a sly, ironic tone/While waiters clear the tables/And sparrows clean the bones/We are hidden in the shadows."  And: "In the hotel round the corner/We have packed our memories/We've pocketed our souvenirs/And folded our unease." This song has a slower, somewhat hypnotic tempo, which helps it get under your skin.

"Lovesick Blues"

"Lovesick Blues," the album's title track, starts off slowly and with lyrics to match that tempo - "So tired of being alone/Too tired to pick up the phone/There's no one I want to be/There's no one I want to see/I've waited so long." The song does kick in a bit, but with these lines, "Sometimes I feel so sad/Mostly I just stay mad/I've shut out all my friends/There's no way to even pretend/That it will ever change." So even as the song becomes more powerful, it's almost like more strength in the resignation to the circumstances. It's truly moving. And his voice sounds strong, yet so vulnerable on the lines, "And I don't have a clue/What I will do without you." Then there is a beautiful, yet sad, instrumental section that reminds me just a bit of George Harrison at moments.

Carrie Shull plays oboe on this track.

"If Memory Serves"

Lovesick Blues concludes with "If Memory Serves," a joyful little pop gem with bit of a mid-1960s feel (there's a Beatles influence). It's a catchy tune, with a humorous element as well, obvious in lines like "I feel sure I never will forget you/By the way, do you spell it with a 'k' or 'q'/And today I think I met someone new/If memory serves," which end the song (and album).  By the way, that's Jeff Crawford on the toy piano (I love that section).

CD Track List
  1. Skin
  2. London
  3. Astronomy
  4. Anyway
  5. You n Me n XTC
  6. I Wrote This Song For You
  7. The Room Above The Bookstore
  8. Wintertime
  9. Occasional Shivers
  10. Lovesick Blues
  11. If Memory Serves
Lovesick Blues is scheduled to be released on February 5, 2013 on Yep Roc Records.

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