Christopher Paul Stelling is one of those artists who seems to live life on an endless tour, constantly moving from place to place, never staying too long. This very situation is what led Stelling to building a relationship with Ben Harper, for whom he opened a handful of shows, and with whom he worked on his latest album Best of Luck. Harper ultimately became more than just a producer to Stelling; he served as a mentor, encouraging him through an intense writing process at an artist’s residency. Coincidentally, the residency was, for Stelling, a return to his roots — literally, it was an hour from where he grew up in North Florida. The isolating and meditative experience proved fruitful, as Best of Luck is a shining example of what Stelling is capable of as a songwriter.
At its core, Best of Luck is about stillness and the act of being present, something that challenged Stelling, but ultimately put him in better touch with himself. Album opener “Have to Do for Now” finds him in a quiet moment of contemplation, sitting on the porch with his dog and taking in his surroundings. Like the album title and so many of its songs suggest, Stelling is feeling pretty lucky to be where he is, whether he’s at home in North Carolina with his loved ones or miles away, all alone. As he mulls all the plans that lie ahead, he reminds himself that right then, he has nowhere else to be. On one of the album’s most thoughtful (and prettiest) tunes, “Lucky Stars,” we hear a similar sentiment from Stelling. He softly sings about staying grounded and keeping the faith in times of darkness, fear, and uncertainty to minimalist acoustic finger-picking.
As much as he’s acknowledging the feeling of being lucky in life, Stelling is also exploring his relationship to hard work. We hear this on songs like “Something in Return,” “Until I Die” and “Trouble Don’t Follow Me,” three sonically different songs that share a message of giving of yourself to get what you want. The latter borders on gospel energy, while “Until I Die” is low and gritty. “Something in Return” is soft and heady, one of the album’s standouts for its mesmerizing guitar melody. It feels fitting that Stelling will join forces with Son Little on tour, especially when you hear a song like “Waiting Game,” in which he taps into a more soulful sound we hadn’t heard from him yet. Perhaps it’s thanks to Harper’s touch, or maybe it’s all that gratitude taking shape in Stelling.