Thursday, August 6, 2009

Peter Holsapple & Chris Stamey -- Here And Now

Peter Holsapple & Chris Stamey -- Here And Now (Bar None)

It was a few years ago that The dB’s reunited and played a smattering of shows, promising an album in the future. That promise has yet to be realized, but the appearance of this album from the band’s two songwriters, is a pretty nice stop gap.

The first Holsapple & Stamey album, 1990's Mavericks, is a minor pop classic, and this album can’t quite approach that standard. But with two pop masters like these guys, there are some real gems.

One of those gems is a cover. The duo takes on Family’s “My Friend the Sun” on the first track, and it sets the tone for the album. Holsapple’s reedy voice radiates optimism on an album that is distinguished by its general good cheer. The whole point of the song is that even though the sun is “well on the run/he’s there in the distance/if you care to see,” i.e., things will get better, just keep your head up.

The songs whipped up by Stamey and Holsapple generally follow this theme, celebrating the big and little things in life. For example, Holsapple sings an ode to the dynamics of a loving relationship on “Early in the Morning”. Over a gentle mid-tempo jangle, Holsapple expresses his devotion by promising to make coffee for his love, letting her sleep in. After all, he can’t sleep well, so why not? I’m not sure if Branford Marsalis’ saxophone accompaniment adds much, but this is a sweet (and perhaps, for some, too cute) love song.

Stamey goes even further with “Broken Record”, a song of incredible beauty. This song is a slow burner with Stamey providing jazz guitar undertones in spots. Stamey, in his signature warble, sings, “Let me be your broken record/let me be your favorite song/let me be your broken record/the one we play all night long.” This song is achingly romantic, with Stamey cataloging the different songs or artists who might provide that special song. It’s a simple metaphor, executed to perfection.

Devotion is one of the primary topics on this record, as further illustrated by “Broken Record”’s companion, “Santa Monica”. Here, Stamey expresses his desire to “hang around with you/until my life is through.” The music here has a real weight to it, as both Stamey and Holsapple are clearly emotionally connected to the sentiments expressed therein.

Holsapple’s take on true love is bouncier and more clever, though no less heartfelt. On “Some Other Part”, a strummy acoustic number with just a hint of twang, Holsapple tries to create a love equation: “Half of me/is also carbon based/then there is that other half/since I’m so good at math/that means you owed me/some other parts.” This song comes from the same place as dB’s classics like “Love Is For Lovers” with just a little bit more of a laid back vibe.

In addition to the unity of mood and theme, these songs are better suited for the duo format than The dB’s. To put it another way, this doesn’t rock or power pop too much. And I don’t have a problem with that.

This album is not quite as strong as Mavericks, as it simply isn’t quite as good song for song. There’s one clunker, Holsapple’s “Widescreen World”, a lightweight mix of power pop and The Rascals that is just a bit too trifling, and a few other songs that aren’t too memorable.

But the album ends really strong. “To Be Loved” is a lovely ballad, with Stamey and Holsapple harmonizing over spare backing, including a pedal steel guitar that provides just the right amount of color. Stamey takes the lead in the verses and the simple lyrics give this the sound of a standard from decades ago.

Meanwhile, Stamey’s “Tape Op Blues” is a chuckle-worthy account of a recording session. Stamey tells the familiar story of an up-and-coming band who blow their advance and confidence while getting their first album done: “The first few weeks went swimmingly/we fired the drummer/and drank coffee/the basic tracks went like a knife through butter.”

It’s a light note on which to end an album that radiates so many good vibrations.

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