Stargunn: Reviewing a Lost Gem
I was originally going to post a blog about the abundance of high quality music that can legally be found for free on the internet. But I guess that will have to wait for another time. Last week’s Shooter Jennings contest on this site got me going through my CDs. I began with Black Ribbons which hasn’t been very far from my stereo since it came out, then I went back to his three country-rock releases he recorded prior to Black Ribbons. Still not satisfied, I took out a CD that very few of you will have heard or even heard of: a 2001 EP entitled The Only Way Up is Down, Part 1 by a band called Stargunn.
Who exactly is Stargunn, you ask? Formed in 1997, they were Matt Reasor, Kevin Sciou and Carter Falco on guitar, Curtis Roach on bass, Lex Lipsitz on drums, and last but not least Shooter Jennings on piano and vocals. The band released two EPs in addition to The Only Way Up is Down– Live 2002 and 2003’s Making Up for Lost Tracks with Ammunition. I have heard neither of them, but judging from what I have heard I want to hear them.
The Only Way Up is Down begins with “Mustangs and Camaros”, a guitar-heavy Guns ‘n Roses-inspired track with good time party-ready lyrics about how “You can’t fuck in Mustangs and Camaros”. The band is really tight here and it is easy to see why they were at one time named one of the Top 100 Unsigned Acts by music industry insiders. And when I say this was inspired by G’nR, I am saying that if you heard the guitar solo while flipping through radio stations, you would wonder who Slash’s new band was.
The next track, “Nikki Stargunn” is a mid-tempo power ballad which sounds thematically similar to Bad Company’s “Shooting Star” from the mid-’70s. However, there is a decidedly Southern flavor to the music, including a Lynyrd Skynyrd-styled guitar solo.
The track “Sunset Boulevard” is the standout on the EP. Musically and lyrically, it could fit onto any of Shooter’s first three solo albums and would have been a standout on them as well. The piano-heavy track is about Stargunn’s struggle to find fame as a band based in Hollywood. “Now I wish I had my picture,” Shooter sings, “on the Rolling Stone today/And I wish that the Enquirer would spread a rumor that I was gay/And I wish I had some buddies, some movie stars and such/Cause I probably wouldn’t worry about the two of us as much/And I’d spend all my money on caviar and cocaine/And I would not remember how you broke my heart today”. I have been listening to this song non-stop for days and even if Stargunn’s music is never re-released to the masses, Shooter should record this one for one of his solo albums because it deserves to be heard.
“The Voices Inside” follows and it is the tale of a “salesman from abroad” who, based on my interpretation is an allegory for Satan. The song’s narrator speaks of cheating spouses, a man who “murdered his own brother” and tells us that “there’s always hidden pleasures in ever shallow grave”. This mid-tempo Southern rock track is downright creepy.
“How Could You (Be So Cold)” follows and it sounds like late-period Bob Seger meets early Rolling Stones with some Leon Russell thrown in for good measure. Lyrical highlights include: “I don’t know where I’m goin’ but I hope I’m Heaven bound/Cause I know that where there’s angels your bitch ass won’t be found”.
The hard rocking “Sex and Drugs” is up next. There are hints of Skynyrd, Oasis, AC/DC, The Clash and other acts but all of these influences together sound like something unique. There is even an R&B horn section thrown in. Lyrics are about what you would expect from the title, but that’s not a bad thing. After all, not every song can be the next “Like a Rolling Stone”. We need a little “Wild Thing” once in a while too.
The EP closes with the Southern rock song “White Lines and Black Ties”. The lyrics are a forerunner of what was to come on Put the O Back in Country and especially Electric Rodeo and in fact, it wouldn’t have sounded too out of place on either. Basically, this is the kind of tune that needs to be cranked up to 11 and played on your car stereo with the windows rolled down. Several excellent guitar solos dominate the track.
And to think that this was just a debut.