CD Review: Mike Stinson – Hell and Half of Georgia
After nearly twenty years on the Los Angeles honky-tonk scene, a place at which he’d arrived from his native Virginia, Mike Stinson moved on to Texas. But not the blue dot Texas of Austin, he moved to the blue-collar Texas of Houston. His twangy, throw-back country music quickly found a sympathetic partner in Jesse Dayton, who produced and lent his band to back 2010’s Jukebox in Your Heart. But recorded in Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studios, Jukebox had an earthy quality that still had one foot in California. This follow-up, produced by R.S. Field, is heavier on rock and blues bar sounds, with organ, electric guitar (courtesy of Lance Smith and Dave Gonzalez) and backing vocalist that give the arrangements a kick. The hoarse edge in Stinson’s voice turns into an appealing husk in this milieu, and his sung-spoken delivery is nicely framed by the hotter settings.
Stinson wears his new-found residential fealty on the sleeve of “Died and Gone to Houston,” one of the most unabashedly affectionate songs ever written about Space City. Juke Boy Bonner knew the ups (“Houston, The Action Town“) and downs (“Struggle Here in Houston“), but it takes an immigrant’s eye to stay focused on a town’s sunny side. When the arrangements back off and twang a bit, such as on “Walking Home in the Rain,” the cracks in Stinson’s voice even suggest the Houston-born Rodney Crowell. Stinson is romantically blunt and intense on “I Got a Thing for You” and “This Year,” but he turns affectionate for his inventory of a musician’s tools, “Box I Take to Work.” He can also be wry, even ornery, as on “Late for My Funeral” and clever, as on “Broken Record.” Houston’s clearly lit a new fire in Stinson’s music, and R.S. Field turns out to be the right man to get it on tape.