Sunday, May 25, 2014

Michael Stanley. The Job.

Michael Stanley.  The Job.
Line Level Music, 2014.  Michael Stanley:

I suppose that we could just endlessly lavish praise upon Hiram College alumnus and Cleveland rock superhero Michael Stanley and be accused of shameless sucking up (just as my young colleague below mentioned concerning me), but there is one flaw in that accusation.  Stanley is just that good.  We don’t have to make stuff up folks.  Go listen for yourself.  I have spent time with his last several albums, and he is consistently excellent, with fine songs, deeply-felt lyrics, and a wonderful band to make his musical visions a reality.  

For his new album, he approaches his music from a different emotional direction.  If The Hang was about grief and recovery, and The Ride was a rocking good time, The Job has a cynical and angry bite to it.  Not that it doesn’t have the same musical trappings of previous albums, including a similar mix of musicians and Stanley’s own unique sound, but the atmosphere has changed.  In many respects this album puts him closer to heartland rock colleagues in a topical sense--the everyday frustrations of living, the life of a working musician, being haunted by the past or personal demons--but Stanley has always gone his own way, which is all to the good.  His view on this album is dim and dark, and it sounds beautiful for it.

While the atmosphere and lyrics are thematically related, the music varies in style and tempo from the high-energy opener, “Everything’s Fine,” to “Breaking News,” an acoustic ballad break that may or may not be self-referential about being “damaged goods.”  Most others fall somewhere in between, tending toward slower-paced tunes with a blues-like or even a country feel.  A few would sit comfortably on the somewhat funkier previous album, such as “The Same River Twice,” aided by Jennifer Lee’s fine vocals.  A couple are anthemic, which I can imagine easily as singalongs in concert--”Maybe This is the Day,” and “Taking the Long Way Around.”  Two are longer discourses, running over seven minutes to good effect--”Last Good Nerve” and “Dark Angels”--deep and dark and highly emotional, each in its own way.  The title song is a musical autobiography of sorts, a tale of an aging rocker, some of it funny, some regretful, all quite realistic.  All the songs are good, several are excellent.  You can decide which ones are which, and they all go to prove that Stanley isn’t out of a job yet.  Most notable musically are the guitar solos on both the faster and the longer songs, whether by Stanley or by Powers, although the band is of a single piece and the quality of musicianship never flags.

Stanley displays his heavier moods on this album, but it all reflects his life and the lives of his fans, and ultimately it’s about survival.  You can wrap this one around you like a cloak when you need it against a cold world.  It should keep you warm for a long time.

Personnel:  Michael Stanley (vocals, guitars, bass), Jennifer Lee (vocals), Danny Powers (guitars), Bob Pelander (piano, organ), Tommy Dobeck (drums), Eroc Sosinski (bass), Rodney Psycka (percussion), Ed Caner (violin, viola).
Tracks:  Everything’s Fine, The Job, Last Good Nerve, You Just Never Know, Survive & Advance, Maybe This is the Day, Velvet Parkway, Breaking News, Unfinished Business, Get in Line, Taking the Long Way Around, Same River Twice, Dark Angels.

Jeff Wanser

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