Jimmy And The Moon

Stephen Stanley Band

Wolfe Island Records, 2018

http://www.facebook.com/StephenStanleyMusic-117596244303

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/23/2018

Let’s begin with props where they are surely due: this album sounds like a rock album should. It has not been overproduced or overprogrammed. Every instrument—guitar, bass, drums, organ—sounds live, regardless of how or when it was recorded. And it’s clear Autotune never touched the vocals, whose imperfections shine like diamonds, reminding you that this is real music made by real human beings. Listening to this album makes you feel like you’re in the room with the band watching them perform, and every decision made by producer Hugh Christopher Brown and artist The Stephen Stanley Band enhances and enriches the vibe of the songs: raw, unpretentious, authentic.

For this album, singer-songwriter-guitarist Stanley—a founding member of Canadian legends The Lowest Of The Low—assembled a crack band featuring Chris Bennett (guitars & vocals), Gregor Beresford (drums & vocals), and Chris Rellinger (bass), with producer Brown often featured on Hammond organ and piano. Like a number of very talented rock singer-songwriters before him, Stanley possesses a voice that’s full of rough edges, but blows past its inherent limitations with passion; Stanley sings every word here like he means it and invests himself completely in these songs, and that makes all the difference.

To some degree a concept album about the wearing of time on places and people in the town Stanley grew up in—Toronto, Canada—Jimmy And The Moon opens with an anthem for our times. Over a firm, purposeful backbeat, “Talkin’ About It” lays out a laundry list of nefarious behavior leading into the chorus “I don’t want to talk about / I don’t want to think about it now.” (Stanley might be Canadian, but that sort of collective denial feels very American just now…) “The truth has been hacked,” he declares—pretty heady stuff for a big-boned, thumping rock song.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“The Troubadour’s Song”—a nostalgic remembrance of a bar in the old neighborhood—asks “When a moment passes, is it gone?” over a steady-on beat, with 12-string acoustic, piano, accordion and flute lending an alt-country feel to this philosophical tune. Then the title track seems to offer an emphatic eulogy to the entire scene that’s just been set; “Nothing happens here anyone would want to talk about / Tall tales, half-truths, and lies” sings Stanley before noting that “We’re gathered here today to say goodbye”—to youth, a scene, or a specific place and time, it isn’t entirely clear, but the passing of a moment is felt with every note.

The fairly cohesive first third of the album closes with “Under The Mynah Bird,” whose heavy bottom end supports an appealing melody and a quirky lyric describing another old haunt and its denizens (who apparently once included Neil Young and Rick James). As Stanley riffs with both voice and guitar, describing every detail of a nighttime barroom ecosystem full of distinctive characters and critical turning points, it’s hard not think of The Hold Steady. Unlike Craig Finn, Stanley actually sings his lyrics, but he brings a similar kind of intensity and literary-flair-with-noisy-bar-band-backing to his incisive lyrics, telling stories and talking about characters in a way that makes them feel like allegories and fables.

The album takes a turn from there, expanding its subject matter while inviting in a series of guests who diversify its sonic palette. Fellow Brown producee David Corley sings the bridge of the cinematic, rather Springsteenesque “40 Endings,” while “Next To Me” showcases a memorable male-female conversation between Stanley and guest vocalist Hadley McCall Thackston, turning the tune into a sort of power-pop romantic devotional (“I get through the day because of you” being the basic message).

Thackston returns, teamed now with Sarah McDermott, on the shambolic “Birthday Clown,” a thumping barroom singalong. By contrast, “By Her Side” is airy, literate and evocative, little slide notes chiming like bells as Stanley wraps his voice’s sandy edges around descriptions of “the haze of alcohol and misgivings” and “unfinished sentences and prevaricating eyes.” (Shawn Mullins comes to mind here.) The album closes with “California,” a bigger and even airier number examining the geographic and emotional divide in a relationship, with guest Kate Fenner’s soulful harmonies complementing Stanley’s matter-of-fact lead vocal as a silvery guitar paints arcing, aching licks in the background.

Jimmy And The Moon is a showcase for Stephen Stanley’s rough-edged yet high-browed roots-rock, a heady mixture of barroom philosophizing and gritty romanticism. Nostalgia has rarely sounded so important, or so real.

Rating: B+

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