Mike Stinson – Hell and Half of Georgia
If you look at my last.fm profile of basically everything I listen to, you’ll see all the usual suspects but may be surprised to see at number 1 a singer you may (probably) not have heard of: Mike Stinson. Yes, more spins than Dylan, Cohen, Bruce …. This tally is largely the result of discovering his first three albums (Jack of all Heartache, The Jukebox is Your Heart, Last Fool in the Bar) and binging on them exclusively for a month.
You might know one of his songs (mentioning this is obligatory in a Mike Stinson article) as Dwight Yoakam took his farewell to the California country troubadour scene ” The Late, Great Golden State” to number 52 with a bullet on the country chart in the mid 2000s.
As you may discern from that fact and the titles of the previous albums Mike Stinson sings what the young folk are calling Honky Tonk – as he says in the intro to “Square with the World” (god, what a song. Unfathomable why it hasn’t been covered a zillion times) this is not your parents’ country music, this is your grandparents’ country music. But, it’s not quite that either. His voice pushes high lonesome maybe into acquired taste territory and his uniformly top notch songwriting can bring a sense of melancholy apart from the usual bar room woman troubles (although plenty of those too.)
In lieu of much from the new album up yet, here are three tracks from the Jesse Dayton-produced The Jukebox in Your Heart (2010) (wish there was a video of “Walk Away”, stone classic):
Square with the World
I’ve Got No One to Drink With Anymore
Slip My Mind
And now here, released last week, is a new record, Hell and Half of Georgia. On first and second and third listen this definitely represents a step up for Stinson, not in a quality or professionalism sense, but the musical palette has clearly been broadened from traditional country to take in a more general rootsy rocky sound. There’s a little less introspection and a bit more attitude. The drums are up, there’s noticeable extra crunch in the guitars, groovier back up crooning and the pedal steel is down a bit, it feels like something that might make a play more than his previous albums. I guess we’ll see if it makes those Americana Airplay Charts they email me every week. I’ve seen Joe Ely namechecked in the few reviews I’ve found on line and it’s probably fair to say Hell and Half of Georgia splits the difference between Dwight-esque classic country and a Texan bar attitude. There is a bluesy growl on “Got A Thing for You” that’s rather unexpected (appealing but … unexpected!), and a number of the songs feature a deeper vocal. But the “old” Mike Stinson is plenty in evidence in the honky tonk wordplay wielded like a scalpel and the terrific melodies that you will be humming for weeks.
I hope this is the one that gets him the bigger audience he richly deserves.
Here’s the albums lead off track, “Late for My Funeral,” which on the album (not so much this solo version) strongly reminded me of a Travelling Wilburies song …