I've been bitching a lot about the dearth of savvy in marketing music product properly. Look, I'm as anti-capitalist as just about anyone you're going to find, a meta-anarchist (a political party of exactly 1: me) from the top of my now-bald once-long-haired head down to the soles of my redrock-country hiking feet, but if you're going to live in a goddamned sick demented asylum like capitalism, then do it right, dammit!…and Michael Stanley's latest disc is a textbook perfect exercise in ne plus ultra intelligence in art direction that treads the tightrope between the two worlds, gratis Marty Lee Hoenes. The sepia cover photo, a Katie Coles snapshot of what appears to be mine workers, is absolutely stunning, a masterpiece of silent commentary. Then you open the liner and encounter a continuation of thematics: a couple of burnished cogs adorned only with "It's your world. Pay attention". The 12-page lyrics booklet follows in line with the rest of the hardscrabble atmospherics, making the entire release all of a piece. I'm tellin' ya I almost wept, it was such a shining example of thought and discretion, knowing precisely what the message was. I'd become so tired of seeing good music hamstrung by bad presentation, that this just lifted my spirits.
And the whole vibe and grist of Stanley's work was indeed enshrined in that opening salvo, as Mike's getting more and more Chris Rea-esque, treading in the tradition of Guthrie and Seeger but well updated, and this, ladies and gentlemen, has resulted in his finest exposition to date, top to bottom. I ain't kiddin' one little bit. Particularly riveting is Last Good Nerve, my favorite cut, with its hypnotic beat, dazzling guitar lines, whirling keyboards, anguished chorus (Jennifer Lee's complementarity is arresting throughout the disc), and Stanley's no-nonsense vocals, a marshaled spirit of conscientiously objecting to what's going on all around us, teeth gritted, fists balled up, ready. And Mike ain't kiddin' around anywhere here. Not only did he write and exceedingly skillfully arrange everything but also produced and engineered the whole shebang.
The band is 200% on the mark, around him like a shadow, like the surrounding countryside, like a second spirit, and the baker's dozen of songs is a cycle steadily moving forward with style and determination, grit and melodics, brooking no obstacles. Get in Line recapitulates that, a darkly tinted song well underscored by drummer Tommy Dobeck (who turns in flawless work everywhere) as Stanley intones:
Everybody ought to know by now
And this storm that's been forming
They got theirs and you want yours
Kinda sums everything up, doesn't it? No way out, y'all except through purgation and renewal. That's what's going on here too. Michael finally gave over the too overt bids for chart acceptance in his long history and, in doing so, made his work ironically far more chartworthy—funny how that works out—while gaining a firm true voice. In that, you'll find he discovered what John Stewart ran across in his later oeuvre as well. Thus, if you're new to this work, start here and work backwards. You'll understand what went before far better.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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