Home Read Albums Of The Week: Chris Stamey | The Great Escape

Albums Of The Week: Chris Stamey | The Great Escape

Backed by a slate of steel guitars — along with plenty of old pals & an Alex Chilton cover — the Chapel Hill icon gets back in touch with his illustrious pop-rock past.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “On his new album The Great Escape, Chris Stamey — known for his work in The dB’s, the Big Star’s Third concerts, and numerous solo recordings, including recent forays into jazz and neo–Tin Pan Alley — returns to the electric guitar sounds and melodic lyricism that informed his classic ’80s solo records It’s Alright, Fireworks and 2004’s Travels In The South. But with a twist!

This time out, alongside adroit pedal-steel aces Eric Heywood (Jayhawks, Pretenders, Alejandro Escovedo) and Allyn Love, Mipso’s Libby Rodenbough and Chatham County Line’s John Teer and Dave Wilson, he’s found a distinctive spin on the ’70s Southern California country-rock of The Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers. Soaring harmonies from Brett Harris (Big Star’s Third), Peter Holsapple (The dB’s) and Matt McMichaels (Mayflies USA, Surrender Human) fill out the picture on many tracks. And there’s an A-team of Caitlin Cary (harmonies), Don Dixon (acoustic bass), Will Rigby (The dB’s, drums), and Rodenbough (fiddle and background vocals) on (A Prisoner Of This) Hopeless Love.

Photo by Daniel Coston.

There’s also a vibrant version of a lost classic, the Alex Chilton / Tommy Hoehn composition She Might Look My Way, remembered fondly by Stamey from his late ’70s live performances with Chilton and the (unreleased) studio recording of it they did together for Elektra Records at Todd Rundgren’s studio. Here, it features two world-class fellow producers: Mitch Easter (Let’s Active, R.E.M.) on drums and Terry Manning (Staple Singers, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top) on bass, guitar embellishments, Mellotron flutes and harmonies. Most tracks, however, are expertly anchored by Rob Ladd (The Connells) or Dan Davis (Six-String Drag) on drums, often accompanied by co-producer Jeff Crawford on bass.

Other highlights include a classic-country codependency ode, Here’s How We Start Again, with John Teer’s fiddle once again and with bandmate Dave Wilson’s harmonies. About the Byrds-flavored I Will Try, Stamey reports: “There are a lot of songs for weddings that make extravagant, unlikely pledges of everlasting love and perfect bliss; I wanted to write a wedding song that spoke to more the way life is.”

The Great Escape, the first release in decades on seminal indie label Car Records (on which Stamey issued recordings by Chris Bell, Mitch Easter and himself in the late ’70s and early ’80s), includes two bonus tracks: an “electric” version of Back in New York, augmented à la Tom Wilson’s electrification of The Sounds of Silence, and a stream-of-consciousness celebration of a surprise early-morning phone call with “the one and only” Van Dyke Parks.

Photo by Daniel Coston.

The genesis of the record came from a 2017 tour with Alejandro Escovedo, in which Stamey was musical director and Heywood the pedal steel player. “I marveled every night at how Eric magically shaped the songs; his instincts were just spot-on. After the tour, I ended up writing a number of tunes with steel in mind, and was fortunate enough to have him add some of his alchemy to these.” Chris continued down this slippery path with NC’s Allyn Love, another marvelous player who “really nailed the energy of the title track, then switched gears for the sensitive dobro textures on Dear Friend.”

Stamey has participated in indie music of all stripes since the 1970s, as a musician (with The dB’s, Golden Palominos, Sneakers, Bob Mould, Big Star’s Third), a producer, and a composer/arranger. New Songs For The 20th Century, a songbook and double CD of 26 new tunes inspired by the Great American Songbook, was released in 2019 to critical acclaim, followed in 2020 by a companion collection, A Brand-New Shade Of Blue. Prior releases include Lovesick Blues, Euphoria and Falling Off The Sky (with The dB’s). As a producer and arranger, he has worked with Ryan Adams, Flat Duo Jets, Tift Merritt, Le Tigre, Those Pretty Wrongs and many others. His original jazz radio play, Occasional Shivers, premiered nationwide on Christmas 2016. Stamey works out of Modern Recording, a studio in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Along with The Great Esape, be sure to catch the new release by The Salt Collective, Life — Stamey cowrote and arranged much of the music and produced other collaborators, including Matthew Caws (Nada Surf), Matthew Sweet, Pat Sansone (Wilco), Richard Lloyd (Television), Juliana Hatfield, Susan Cowsill, Anton Barbeau and Matt Douglas (Mountain Goats).”


Photo by Daniel Coston.