Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Stone Hill All-Stars: “Live” (2013) CD Review

The Stone Hill All-Stars’ live CD, appropriately titled Live, offers a delightful mix of rock and jazz elements, with a cool jam band approach and great grooves. There is also a bit of country, like on “In A Strained Rhythm,” and folk (there is a nod to a Simon & Garfunkel song in “On The Banks”), and even reggae on a track like “No Engine On This Train.” This CD contains 74 minutes of music, all original material, most of it written or co-written by Paul Margolis. These songs have some unusual lyrics, often delivered as by a storyteller or poet rather than singer. This music brought a smile to my face almost immediately when I first put the disc in. I know I’ll be turning to this disc often. The Stone Hill All-Stars formed in 2008, though members had played together before in The Polkats. These tracks were recorded in Baltimore at a venue called An Die Musik on August 4th, 2012.


The album opens with “Dizzy,” whose lyrics come at a quick pace, telling a tale as well as creating an atmosphere. There is something timeless and European about the vibe of this song, and it has a good groove. And I absolutely love the piano, particularly in the instrumental sections. This track is absolutely delightful. The vocal line reminds me a bit of Phish (on this track and others). Here is a taste of the lyrics: “In your bedroom, blue neon from the street/illuminates each photo on the wall/The branches from the maple tree scratch against your window/The screech of brakes, the building quakes/Your gait impaired, your tousled hair obscures/the candlelight glare off your earrings/that I bought you for your birthday/shiny silver, purple bauble/a feeble offering from the kiosk at the entrance to the Towson Mall/Hey, it’s bedtime.” And toward the end, it has something of a jam quality (I’d actually like it explored more, and wish the track were longer).

“Daybreak Until Seven”

“Daybreak Until Seven” begins like a sweet tease, with little playful touches, hints of the song. There are then hints of reggae in the rhythm, but then juxtaposed with more chaotic fragments on piano – a great combination. And again, this song has some interesting and unusual lyrics, such as these lines: “a chair like a saddle, a keyboard like a paddle,” “Arms across your chest, defiant as you wait/Elegant in motion like an elephant being weighed/Stumbling across the city,” and then later “Arms across your chest, defiant as if you’re waiting for something/Elegant in motion, like an elephant frozen amid commotion.” There is a really nice, somewhat mellow but intricate jam toward the end.

“I Got In Trouble”

“I Got In Trouble” begins with some nice jazzy work on piano. Then the song takes on a very catchy, positive groove. The lyrics are delivered in a nearly spoken-word style. “Hey, ain’t it funny how time has emptied all this space/I dreamed that hell froze over because that’s when you said you’d even think about seeing me again.” At the end he asks, “Ain’t it funny how time has faded,” then adds, “Please say you think it’s funny how time has faded,” which is a great touch. The song takes on more of a New Orleans vibe when the horn comes in, and it’s absolutely wonderful. Craig Considine plays trombone on this track.

“Watching The Waves”

“Watching The Waves” is a mellower, more serious (and totally effective) song. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Little talk as we sift through the ashes/Lift buckets as if filled with sand/Our skin growing tan.” And I love the way John Shock’s harmonica sneaks up on us; it’s a really interesting use of that instrument, and kind of makes you hold your breath to see what will happen, where it will go.

“Corporal Smith”

“Corporal Smith” begins with a fantastic groove. This one features Lou Shach on harmonica. He adds a nice flavor at the beginning, then comes in later for a lead part during an instrumental section, which is great. Craig Considine plays trombone on this track, and Dan Naiman plays saxophone. The piano also has a loose, jazzy feel. “Corporal Smith” was written by Dan Naiman and Paul Margolis.

“In A Strained Rhythm”

“In A Strained Rhythm” begins with a bit of stage banter about the song’s origin. Actually, it’s placed at the end of track #9. “It was just me and him in an empty hallway, so again I’m glad you’re all here.” This one is a bit of country, with also a bit of a New Orleans flavor, so yeah, overall it has a really good, fun feel. I totally dig the accordion. 

"On The Banks"

"On The Banks" has more of a folk feel, and is mellower, with guitar and vocals to begin the track.  “A fire fading in the hearth/A scar upon the heart/Seems to feed the flames too slowly.” When the song kicks in, it takes on kind of a sweet vibe. It's a really nice song, with some good lyrics, like these: “I hear time is a river/Baby, if so I'm sinking like a stone/From the weight all these broken bones.” John Shock's work on harmonica adds to the song's sweet feel.

This song has a reference to Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer," with the narrator distracting himself by singing lines from it.  “Walking amid the crowd, I distract myself by singing/And every glove that laid him down or cut him till he cried out.”

"Meet Me In The Morning"

"Meet Me In The Morning" has a great groove with some nice work on bass. There is also some really interesting interplay between Lou Shach on harmonica and Dan Naiman on saxophone, in a cool instrumental section. And later John Shock provides really nice work on keys.

"Happy Again"

"Happy Again" is the only song that Paul Margolis didn’t have a hand in writing. This is a strange and engaging song about a relationship, with the opening lines being, "If you'll forgive the many times I've hurt you/I'll forget you ever said goodbye/We'll pick up our happy life together/When you come back to me and you forget that other guy." This was written by John Shock, with his piano supplying the rhythm through large portions of it. And I love the repeated, insistent (but not convincing) delivery of "We'll be happy again, happy again, we'll be happy again, happy again, happy again." Great.

"No Engine On This Train"

This live album ends on a happy note with a reggae tune, "No Engine On This Train." I love the harmonica playing over that familiar rhythm. This one, like the others, boasts some interesting lyrics, such as these lines: “There is no present to this tense” and “There is no fact of which I am certain/There is no design on this white T-shirt.”

CD Track List

  1. Dizzy
  2. Daybreak Until Seven
  3. I Got In Trouble
  4. Slate Gray Day
  5. He’s The Weatherman
  6. Watching The Waves
  7. Corporal Smith
  8. The Match Shaking
  9. 96 Days
  10. In A Strained Rhythm
  11. McCarthy’s In The Second Row
  12. On The Banks
  13. Meet Me In The Morning
  14. Happy Again
  15. No Engine On This Train


The Stone Hill All-Stars are Dan Naiman on bass and saxophone; Hoppy Hopkins on drums and vocals; John Shock on piano, accordion, vocals, and harmonica; Paul Margolis on guitar, vocals and bass; and Tim Pruitt on guitar. Joining them on this release are Lou Shach on harmonica and Craig Considine on trombone.

Live was officially released on August 4, 2013.

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