"Travels in the South"
Even when accompanying such unpredictable performers as Alex Chilton or Bob Mould, Chris Stamey was always a formalist. The two brilliant albums he made with the dBs in the early '80s are marvels of propulsion, pitting classic pop-rock tunes and themes against the funkier, jazzier predilections of New York's then-cresting no wave. But most of the singer-guitarist's solo work is as overly meticulous as it is appealingly melodic. Now, after years of working primarily as a producer, the North Carolina native has released "Travels in the South," his first collection of new songs since 1991. It's clever, charming and a bit stiff.
Stamey, who knows his own strengths, opens with the most immediate tune, "14 Shades of Green." This jangly, upbeat rocker recounts a string of adolescent memories, from "here's where we fell in love" to "here's where we robbed that store." Most of the other 11 songs are more abstract: "Kierkegaard" contemplates the existence of God with the help of "Pet Sounds"-style harmonies, while "In Spanish Harlem" pays detached tribute to Phil Spector's early recordings. The Beach Boys and Ben E. King are logical touchstones for Stamey, but "Travels in the South" also includes some unexpected elements: There are jazzy keyboard licks and a drum solo, and Stamey plays some Allman Brothers-style passages. Yet even these surprises are incorporated into the sort of tidy pop tunes that should please Stamey's admirers, but leave everyone else waiting for emotional payoffs that seldom arrive.
-- Mark Jenkins
Appearing Thursday at IOTA. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Chris Stamey, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8109. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)