The Chris Stamey Experience
A Question of Temperature
Once and future dB Chris Stamey issued his first solo record in over a decade last year, Travels in the South. He spent most of that decade manning the soundboard as a producer for folks like Whiskeytown and Alejandro Escovedo. Now, as if making up for lost time, Stamey has issued a quick follow-up; this one a fascinating collaboration with the great Hoboken trio Yo La Tengo. Behind the board is one of the architects of the ’80s southern jangle-pop scene that Stamey was a part of, Mitch Easter. And along for the ride are Caitlin Cary and dBs bandmate (and previous YLT collaborator) Gene Holder, among others.
This record includes a handful of originals, both old and new, plus some well-chosen, politically-charged covers. Although it occasionally has an odds-and-sods disjointed feel, the highlights here are sublime. Following an opening barrage of noise, Stamey and company launch into the bouncy, psychedelic Yardbirds nugget “Shapes of Things.” “Come tomorrow … will I be … a soldier,” Stamey ponders as Yo La Tengo work themselves into a cacophony of sound. They also cover Television’s “Venus,” Tift Merritt’s pretty “Plainest Thing” and a 1970 Eddie Harris/Les McCann tune called “Compared to What” that protested the Vietnam War in words that somewhat echoed a better-known Edwin Starr classic. “The president, he’s got his war / No one knows just what it’s for,” Stamey sings. The dreamy lullaby “Sleepless Nights” is surprisingly not a cover of the Boudleaux Bryant number recorded by the Everly Brothers, Gram Parsons, Elvis Costello and others. Instead, Stamey repeats a simple refrain as YLT add interesting sound effects.
Stamey also re-visits his 1978 single “The Summer Sun” (heard here in two versions), which inspired the title of a 2003 Yo La Tengo release. It sports one of those sweet, inventive pop melodies Stamey was known for back in the dBs days. He performs all the music himself on “Come On,” an instrumental with plenty of ’60s influences. There’s also a standard-issue, early rock and roll-inspired number called “Desperate Man.” And there’s even a jaunty little whistling song with bluegrass quartet Chatham County Line joining in.
But the album’s centerpiece, and reportedly the raison d’etre for the collaboration with Yo La Tengo, is an epic, slow-mo character study called “McCauley Street (Let’s Go Downtown).” It affords Yo La Tengo guitarist Ira Kaplan the opportunity to jam for about four minutes of the song’s ten minutes-plus length. Exceptional stuff.
It’s great to have Stamey back on the other side of the sound booth, giving the fans two stellar releases in a relatively short timeframe. But the best news of all may be that Stamey is reportedly performing and recording with his old dBs bandmates, perhaps ensuring a new jangle-pop revolution for the 21st century.