Chris Stamey - Travels in the South
Having laid a few distinctive skid marks on the American underground-pop landscape as a founding member of both The Sneakers and The dB’s, it seems Chris Stamey looms larger in the memories of musicians than listeners. He admits this album wouldn’t have happened without the prodding of a younger generation of artists (especially Ryan Adams, but also Ben Folds, Caitlin Cary, Tift Merritt and others) who join him throughout the release, his first since 1995. And while it’s not an overwhelmingly convincing return to form, the best moments of Travels in the South are very fine, indeed—from the good-natured jangle-pop nostalgia of “14 Shades of Green” and the soaring harmonies of “The Sound You Hear” to the beautifully upward-twisting melody of “Ride.” Honestly, these moments are so impressive as to just about justify purchase on their relative merits, but the album is still predominantly hit-or-miss. Even so, its lesser tracks have their moments of unexpected brilliance, from the Beach Boys-esque harmonies that fill the middle of “Kierkegaard” to the pedal steel’s sad tug on the otherwise-pedestrian and sentimental title track. Still, too much of the album pulls tricks too obviously out of the classic-rock playbook, with the worst offenders inching perilously close to easy-listening territory. No doubt, Stamey still knows his way around a good melody, and such an album does justice to his legacy of mining melodic gold out of America’s pop underground. One just wishes he’d have held out for one or two more genuine nuggets.