A Little Give and Take
Civilian Art Projects
When we last encountered Stewart Lupton in 2008 I was raving about his freshly-minted EP with Childballads, Cheekbone Hollows — a fucking joi de vivre ragged-glory revelation of Royal Trux-referencing scuzzfolk blues that made you want to sing songs on porches and rhapsodize about all the summertime joys of childhood. Unfortunately, what followed was silence. It was a familiar pattern for Lupton, whose aesthetic sensibilities don’t really jive with the realities of the meatgrinder marketplace, resulting in bands like Jonathan Fire*Eater that fell apart way too soon, and a tendency for the mainstream to write him off as this Syd Barrett-Chet Baker kinda character, who can’t keep it together enough to make a real “go” of this music lark. All well and good. Everyone needs their self-destructive icons, but what complicates this is that every few years Lupton releases some music or some writings that are just too fucking good. (See, you all got it wrong, Lupton’s more like a George Jones or a Sonic Boom, a musician who works at his own pace, oblivious to the nigglings of the “industry.”)
Case in point, this year: artist, musician, and top chef (man we are sorely lacking such renaissance types these-a-days) Carole Greenwood drops me a line to let me know that she and Stewart Lupton are making some music together, hot damn! As the Beatin’s they’re creating a high lonesome sound — a woodsy, gritty, woozy, down-home boy/girl country jamboree that falls somewhere between Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs’ last record and some outtakes from the Bristol Sessions. Lupton and Greenwood duly recorded a clutch of songs with like-minded musicians and released it themselves, and in this era of sterile digital music (FUCKING BORING), this limited edition vinyl-only EP is how music should be presented. There’s a great band portrait on the cover, lyrics artfully concealed in the inside, and enclosed with each EP is a “process” envelope, filled with photographs, set lists, lyrics, notes, and other assorted creative detritus.
“Time To Stop Yer Idlin” is old-timey sermonizing and apocalyptic warnin’ coupled to a bluesy tumble. Greenwood takes the vocal lead, Lupton hangs back, his voice sounding like the devil of doubt on yer shoulder. “Jesus Met the Woman at the Well” gets the full-on cosmic gospel treatment like Sonic Boom or J. Spacemen woulda done it; a wall of organ starts the song and then it’s just a strutting drumbeat with minimal guitar punctuation, harmonica vamps, and Greenwood and Lupton trading verses on the Peter, Paul, and Mary chestnut. Greenwood sounding clear and strong, Lupton sounding sinister and ageless, they have some cool interplay. They turn a Ricky Nelson/Dean Martin novelty ditty “My Rifle, My Pony, and Me” into an oddly affecting, sweet-natured blues lullaby. Stewart Lupton arranges the best boy/girl vocal harmonies of anyone in the biz, man. “Edward / How Came This Blood” is a rivetingly authentic-sounding traditional number; Greenwood’s vocals are downright salacious, the pacing is a somnambulant haze, the banjo and piano sound warm and comforting, and it sounds like there’s a typewriter helping out on percussion. Restless like I love it.