Travels in the South
Travels in the South is North Carolina native Chris Stamey’s first collection of new music since 1991. He’s kept himself busy in the intervening years, mostly as a producer for Carolina-based artists like Caitlin Cary and Thad Cockrell. Those two help Stamey dip his foot back into the performing waters here, along with Ryan Adams, Don Dixon, Ben Folds, Tift Merritt and Peter Holsapple (Stamey’s former partner from the ’80s band The dBs.) The result is an impressive collection of music and a welcome return.
“14 Shades of Green” is an upbeat, trumpet-backed opener that finds Stamey reminiscing about adolescence. “Here’s where we went to class / A hundred hours a day / Here’s where we smoked grass / And laughed our cares away,” he sings.
From there, things get a little heavier. He ponders “if there’s no God” on “Kierkegaard,” set against a lush, Beach Boys-inspired soundscape. Stamey pays tribute to Phil Spector’s early recordings on “In Spanish Harlem.” And if you need any further indication of where Stamey’s musical inclinations lay, there’s a pretty ballad here called “And I Love Her” (though it’s not the Beatles song of the same name). It’s clear from listening to Travels in the South that Stamey also appreciates everything from prog rock to the experimental guitar stylings of Television’s Richard Lloyd.
Elsewhere, “The Sound You Hear” has a stellar guitar solo, nice harmonies and a big sound. But the ’60s psychedelia-inspired “Ride” sounds like the very definition of over-produced. There may be a song buried in there somewhere, but you have to listen pretty hard to find it. And the album unfortunately peters out with not one but two jazzy instrumentals (one featuring a drum solo, of all things) and a couple of atmospheric but unexciting ballads.
Still, Travels in the South reminds us of Stamey’s past glories and forges some interesting new musical ground. In the record’s best moments, he takes the sounds he grew up with in the ’60s and combines them in intriguing and original ways. A mature effort from one of southern jangle pop’s elder statesmen.