Shindig! Magazine, October 2023 Chris Stamey Interview (PDF)
Latest Release: The Great Escape
On his new album, The Great Escape, Chris returns to the electric guitar sounds and melodic lyricism that informed his classic '80s solo records It's Alright, Fireworks, and 2004's Travels in the South—but with a twist!
This time out, alongside adroit pedal-steel aces Eric Heywood (Jayhawks, Pretenders, Alejandro Escovedo) and Allyn Love, Mipso's Libby Rodenbough, and Chatham County Line's John Teer and Dave Wilson, he's found a distinctive spin on the '70s Southern California country-rock flavors of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Soaring harmonies from Brett Harris (Big Star's Third concerts), Peter Holsapple (The dB's), and Matt McMichaels (Mayflies USA) fill out the picture on many tracks. And there's an A-team of Caitlin Cary (harmonies), Don Dixon (acoustic bass), Will Rigby (drums), and Rodenbough (fiddle and background vocals) on "(A Prisoner of This) Hopeless Love."
Other highlights include a classic-country codependency ode, "Here's How We Start Again," with John Teer's fiddle once again and with bandmate Dave Wilson's harmonies. About the Byrds-flavored "I Will Try," Stamey reports: "There are a lot of songs for weddings that make extravagant, unlikely pledges of everlasting love and perfect bliss; I wanted to write a wedding song that spoke to more the way life is."
The genesis of the record came from a 2017 tour with Alejandro Escovedo, in which Stamey was musical director and Heywood the pedal steel player. "I marveled every night at how Eric magically shaped the songs; his instincts were just spot-on. After the tour, I ended up writing a number of tunes with steel in mind, and was fortunate enough to have him add some of his alchemy to these." Chris continued down this slippery path with NC's Allyn Love, another marvelous player who "really nailed the energy of the title track, then switched gears for the sensitive dobro textures on 'Dear Friend.'"
The Great Escape
The One and Only (Van Dyke Parks)
Praise for The Great Escape
Chris Stamey is an American musical treasure. Something of a local legend while growing up in Winston-Salem NC, he was even then recognized as someone special. With a background and early immersion in forms well beyond rock and roll, Stamey developed a wide-encompassing musical style that would serve him well. A contemporary, friend and musical associate of Peter Holsapple, Mitch Easter, Don Dixon and other future luminaries, he would collaborate, assist and work on his own. His work with Alex Chilton, Sneakers, The dB's, as a producer and so much more are all rightly acclaimed. In recent years Stamey has expanded his scope to include modern takes on the Great American Songbook (and/or its aesthetic) and other styles.
North Carolina's finest has returned with what just might be the best album of his solo career. There is such an overshadowing of deep thoughts and even deeper life events all through THE GREAT ESCAPE that a tinge of wanting to check on Stamey's emotional condition comes to the fore. Then there are breakthroughs on certain songs that make it sound like the musician just might make it through after all. This style could be tagged Baroque & Roll on several songs, which would be an extreme compliment. And, of course, there's a mesmerizing cover of Alex Chilton and Tom Hoen's "She Might Look My Way," produced by ZZ Top-etc. auteur Terry Manning that shows a whole other side of Chris Stamey's abilities. Taken all together, the man has made what will easily be one of the best albums this year. It is so personal that it feels like the listener could be stalking Stamey through a long nostalgic walk through his former New York City life forty years ago, watching someone process a past that isn't coming back but still feels beautiful anyway. The sound of the 1980's has also returned in a truly glorious way, never to be forgotten, with band names like the dBs, the Sneakers and so many others echoing everywhere. To make sure the street creed has remained in Chris Stamey's life, he includes the bonus track "The One and Only (Van Dyke Parks) in reverend reference to a true artist of the first wave of individualism in the blown-open 1960s.
"No exaggeration, this album is astonishingly good: dreamy country-rock-infused melodies, a deftly crafted balance between the delicate and the cathartic, contrasting light and shade, power and tenderness. The 13-track set is evidence that Chris Stamey remains as strong a writer as ever and maybe has even become a more accomplished one. His carefully crafted lyrics are wrapped around expansive melodic arrangements, lushly layered guitars and ethereal vocal harmonies, maintaining a sense of musical familiarity while still pushing his sound forward. A unique and well-constructed album, which fuses the best of country-rock sentiment, folk-rock beauty and even hints of psychedelia, it's a potent concoction of 1960s-inspired tunes that harken back to the early days of flower power and the jangly Americana rock'n'roll of bands like Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds. If your old Flying Burrito Brothers' records have lost their thrill, this new CD may be a solid successor. . . . Twangy Americana instrumentation mixes with washes of delicate harmonies and soaring pedal steel imitating the sunburnt Southern California landscape where this style of music came of age. . . . [This] is an impressive body of work that upholds the finest harmony-laden country-rock tradition.
"The Great Escape is another winning collection. There's also a little late-'60s sunshine pop in songs like "Realize" that could've been performed by The Turtles or The Association, while a twangy breeze also runs through much of the album thanks to ace pedal steel players Eric Heywood and Allyn Love. These songs sound like a summation of everything he's done to date. . . . This escape may be great, but there's no outrunning your past and Stamey has in turn chosen to embrace it."
Renowned North Carolina producer and songwriter Chris Stamey has devoted a good chunk of the past dozen years to star-studded concerts featuring the music of Big Star, the fabled 1970s Memphis band fronted by Stamey's late friend and onetime bandmate Alex Chilton. As such, it's no surprise to see the hidden pop gem "She Might Look My Way," a song Chilton co-wrote with fellow Memphis musician Tommy Hoehn, turn up on The Great Escape, Stamey's fifth album since 2013. . . . Its presence here informs other parts of The Great Escape: The effervescent pop of "Realize" and the rich harmonies on "I Will Try" sound as if they're cut from the same cloth.
As The Great Escape progresses, Chris Stamey conjures a persona that radiates an admirable self-awareness. Take "The Sweetheart of the Video," for instance, where the distinction between illusion and reality, past and present, couldn't be more clear. . . . The most distinctive factor of this music, however, is the dulcet harmony singing, the carefully-honed likes of which grace the title song, to name just one. The chiming electric guitars on "Realize" sound altogether familiar in this context too, evoking iconic bands like the Byrds and the Beatles, so much so the buoyancy of the performance rises ever higher during successive verses and solos.
Last month saw the release of Life, an album by The Salt Collective, a band that features Chris Stamey, along with his fellow bandmates from The dB's. And now we're being treated to a new Chris Stamey album, The Great Escape. Are we getting spoiled by so much good music? Maybe. . . .
Chris Stamey's a songwriting connoisseur. In recent years this co-founder of the dB's, the influential '80s power pop band, has been paying tribute to classic pop song history and making a virtue of musical nostalgia. His last two solo albums, New Songs for the 20th Century (2019) and A Brand-New Shade of Blue (2020) successfully revived the kind of direct and unabashedly romantic pop songwriting that preceded rock and roll—without being boring or trite. The Great Escape, on the other hand, is a collection filled with the kind of indie rock the singer-songwriter has been making since the late 1970s.
You can't mess with or top Chris Stamey. Come on, he was in The Sneakers and the dB's. Probably heard/heard of Big Star way before you, heck he played with Chilton for a while when he got to NYC and he released a Chris Bell 7" when no one else wanted to. He's pals with Mitch Easter and the guys in REM and is a published author (I really enjoyed his book). So yeah, he guys resume' is a mile long. He's a lifer musician who is still at it and deserves the utmost respect.
Praise for New Songs for the 20th Century:
'New Songs for the 20th Century' is an amazing album. The songs astound, as if lifted out of a time machine; to highlight some songs and not others is almost criminal. Those familiar with the Great American Songbook will likely be enthralled by this rich collection. Backed by the Mod Rec Orchestra, many great musicians bring Stamey's new songs to life. The beautiful and luxurious "I Don't Believe in Romance" features singer Caitlin Cary and has the magic of a Burt Bacharach classic; the wistful "What is This Music that I Hear?" and "On an Evening Such as This" are both bolstered by singer Kirsten Lambert's affecting vocals. The jazzy "There's Not a Cloud in the Sky" and more contemporary "I Am Yours" are among the memorable tracks on disc one. The jazzy "Beneath the Underdog" (featuring Marshall Crenshaw, Don Dixon and Django Haskins), the beautiful "In Spanish Harlem," and nuanced "Lover, Can You Hear Me?" bring equal power to the second disc.' — Robert Kinsler, Rock 'N' Roll Truth (blog)
'Musicians from Rod Stewart to Bob Dylan have turned to the Great American Songbook to revive their creative juices. But Chris Stamey has taken a different approach. Instead of singing other people's compositions, he's rearranged a handful of old songs and written a raft of new ones that are akin to material for a 1958 recording session by Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald.'— Geoffrey Himes review, Downbeat Magazine, September, 2019
'This is a prodigious project that asks for real attention. Fortunately, the gift of this music pays off in timeless beauty and unlimited inspiration. It's like the past has been reinvigorated by the present, with nothing lost and everything gained.' — Bill Bentley review, Americana Highways, July 10, 2019
'"Insomnia" perfectly exemplifies the full album's intelligence and exuberance for rich harmonic environments and material unencumbered by compositional excess. Not a note is wasted.' — Pop Matters, May 16, 2019
"It's terrific: he has penned a batch of beautiful lyrics and melodies, and the performances here are uniformly fine. [Stamey has] rounded up a large group of talented players for his project, including dBs cofounder Peter Holsapple, Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, Marshall Crenshaw, and Branford Marsalis, to name a few.' — Americana Highways (blog), June10, 2019
'This is a sprawling, brilliant piece of work: 26 songs across two CDs, and each one is a masterpiece. And, even better, there are unmistakable Chris Stamey footprints throughout. . . . I'm not sure how old someone has to get before you can't call him a "Boy Genius" anymore, but at least I know now that it's post-60.' — Mike Fornatale, Shindig, July 8, 2019.
'Stamey does an amazing job matching the songs to the singers . . . the velvet voice of Django Haskins singing the swinging sound of "Manhattan Melody (That's My New York)" and the sweeping ballad "It's Been A While" . . . Kristen Lambert performing the lush ballads "What Is This Music That I Hear?" and "On An Evening Such As This" . . . Millie McGuire's stellar vocals grace the jazzy ballad "I Fall In Love So Easily" and the gentle flow of "Pretty Butterfly" . . . Marshall Crenshaw, Don Dixon and Django Haskins for the upbeat, gospel-like New Orleans-style jazz of "Beneath The Underdog.' — JP's Music Blog
'...thrilling, evocative' — John Platt, WFUV New Folk Initiative, writing about "Manhattan Melody"
'JazzTimes is honored to present the premiere of the video for "Manhattan Melody (That's My New York)" by Chris Stamey and the ModRec Orchestra. . . . [B]oth the song and the album aren't quite what you'd expect based on his resume' — the influence of the Great American Songbook is strong, and the overall sound is much closer to jazz than rock. It doesn't hurt that Stamey brought in some ringers here: Branford Marsalis on tenor sax, Matt Douglas on clarinet, Jim Crew (along with Stamey himself) on piano, Jason Foureman on bass, and Dan Davis on drums. Django Haskins is the vocalist, one of more than a dozen singers who alternate tracks throughout the album, including Nnenna Freelon, Ariel Pocock, and power-pop maestro Marshall Crenshaw.' — Jazz Times, June 28, 2019
'This is a stunning project that will capture the attention of listeners from several genres and from those who bestow awards for such projects.' — Glide Magazine, June 26, 2019
'Bravo to Stamey, and hopefully these songs will find their way into live performances and recording sessions by other artists and in some ways become part of a New American Songbook.' — Robert Baird, 20th Century Globe, July 10, 2019
'Stamey, with a terrific cast of musicians including folks like Branford Marsalis, Bill Frisell, Nels Cline, Caitlin Cary and many others, doing the Tin Pan Alley type of tunes with really stunning results. On Disc One a few songs that really grabbed me were "Occasional Shivers" (sung by the lovely NNenna Freelon) and the gorgeous "Your Last Forever After" (sung by the great Caitlin Cary who really soars here). On Disc Two, "Beneath the Underdog" (which Marshall Crenshaw and Don Dixon both appear) really kicks it into gear while "In Spanish Harlem" evokes a late night walk on a summer evening. Oh, and do not miss the terrific "I Didn't Mean to Fall in Love With You" (sung by the very talented Kirsten Lambert who is all over this record). . . . Stamey and his crew really put their best foot forward here and they really do nail it, all subtlety and no bombast. The songs were inspired by a different era but they bring it completely up to date and truly deliver a moving batch of songs.' — Dagger Zine (blog), July 18, 2019