Sunday, November 1, 2015

Michael Stanley. And Then...

Michael Stanley.  And Then...
Line Level Music, 2015.  Michael Stanley:

Quite some time back, Neil Young suggested that “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” I guess that could be good advice for some, but it seems that there are alternatives. Michael Stanley has found a third way, one that was followed by luminaries such as Benjamin Franklin. In his later years, Franklin was Ambassador to France, participated in the Constitutional Convention, and wrote abolitionist works. Continue what you do, and if it’s good and honest work it will be rewarded and remembered. In recent years, despite more than 40 years in the music business, the Cleveland heartland rocker has produced such a consistently fine material that it reminded me of old Ben. One album after another, from The Hang, to The Ride, to The Job, he’s turned to an autumnal renaissance of excellent music. And Then… continues the annual feast.

The new album is in some sense typical for Stanley, but unusual in the world of popular music of the moment, in not having been written by a stable of Swedish songwriters. No cheap pop here. Stanley wrote most of the songs, with credits for one shared with Marc Lee Shannon and one other borrowed from David Grissom. There’s a lot of variety--anthemic rockers, power ballads, softer ballads, a bit of Americana--but it all fits nicely within his aesthetic and musical sense of the world. Lyrics speak to separation and loneliness, love and loss, hope, and more than one political comment. It feels a bit more uptempo than The Job, but less so than The Ride. Most of the rockers are in the first half of the album, with the more pensive material towards the back, but it’s a good mix.

I’m a fan of uptempo songs so I tend to concentrate on those, but I have to mention “Long Ohio Winter,” a beautiful ballad on a subject many of us relate to, which of course he uses as a metaphor for missing someone he loves. Bob Pelander does some gorgeous piano work here. A couple of the other ballads are heartbreakers too, especially “In Your Kiss,” with Ed Caner on viola in the background. Of the rockers, I particularly enjoyed “Snakes,” and “Don’t Say Nothing,” both of which I interpret as social commentary (although I’ve been know to be wrong). Both have a hard edge that shows off the power of the band. He throws some R&B flavor into the mid-tempo songs where the whole band shines. “All Together Now” is anthemic, with a singalong part that will be a big hit in concert. “Shifting Gears” is one of my favorites, partly because of the vocals (nice trick with the background vocalists finishing the verses), and the prominence of Pelander’s organ work. The odd song out, but not in a bad way, is “Sweet Spot,” which has a country flavor courtesy of Ed Caner’s violin.

The ensemble is strong, nearly a big band except for horns, and the guitar work is great throughout. There are no weak tracks. The only weird thing is the cover, which as you can see is a bit creepy. It was not photoshopped, which is even more creepy, but appropriate for the Halloween season. Fans of Stanley need not be convinced, but if you like solid rock & roll, give this music a try. As for concerts, he’ll be playing Hard Rock Live at Northfield later in December. Get your tickets now, because he always sells out.

Personnel:  Michael Stanley (vocals, guitar, bass), Tommy Dobeck (drums), Bob Pelander (piano, organ), Danny Powers (guitar), Jennifer Lee (vocals), Marc Lee Shannon (guitar, mandolin, vocals), Rodney Psyka (percussion), Ed Caner (violin, viola), Don Dixon (vocals).
Tracks:  All Together Now, Radio Waves, Sound of a Train, Shifting Gears, And Then, Snakes, Sweet Spot, Long Ohio Winter, Hang on to this Heart, Don’t Say Nothing, Good Day for the Blues, In Your Kiss, Circadian Rhythm.

Jeff Wanser

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