It’s been nine years since Chris Stamey’s last solo album, Travels in the South. In the interim he’s worked with Yo La Tengo on A Question of Temperature., re-teamed with fellow dB Peter Holsapple for Here and Now, regrouped with the dB’s for Falling Off the Sky, and continued a busy career as a recording engineer and record producer. The long years between solo outings are certainly understandable, if not necessarily a happy state of affairs for fans; but those same fans should feel rewarded by this collection of eleven magnificent new productions. Stamey’s melancholy tunefulness has never sounded more graceful, rendered in contemplative tones and finely crafted instrumental textures that shift seamlessly between rock, soul, jazz and classical.
Stamey’s formal education in music theory and composition has never been a secret, but his recent work on the Big Star Third concerts seems to have deepened his thinking about how orchestral instruments could fit into and augment his music. He interleaves strings, woodwinds and brass with guitars, bass and drums, dotting his musical landscape with cello, bassoon, flute and trombone. The results are both ethereal and dynamic, offering everything from neo-psych dreaminess to symphonic vigor, sometimes within the same song, as on the sky-gazing “Astronomy.” This coalescing of musical influences is seemingly foreshadowed by the merging of souls in the opener, “Skin.”
At 59, Stamey’s long since expanded upon the punchy guitar rock with which the dB’s introduced themselves, though “You n Me n XTC” has a chorus hook that will make listeners think back. The album plays as late-night ruminations on metaphysical wanderings, philosophical wonderings and haggard day-end inventories. Stamey sings with a thoughtful absorption that suggests Paul Simon’s folk songs, and the self-referential “I Wrote This Song for You” has the charm of an Alex Chilton love song. Stamey’s lyrics remain poetic, but his vocabulary and singing have softened from their earlier percussiveness – a change that fits these pensive songs.