From his tenures with the Sneakers and the dB's on through to his subsequent solo projects, singer/songwriter Chris Stamey remained a linchpin of the jangle pop renaissance. Born December 6, 1954 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, he was raised in the Winston-Salem area, and alongside longtime friend and collaborator Peter Holsapple, he first surfaced in 1972 in the short-lived Rittenhouse Square, which issued its sole LP the following year. While attending the University of North Carolina in 1975, Stamey teamed with drummer Will Rigby to form the cult favorite power pop combo Sneakers; the group was later joined by guitarist Mitch Easter, the future Let's Active frontman who would go on to emerge as one of the era's premier producers. The group traveled to New York City in 1976 to appear at the famed Max's Kansas City but dissolved soon after, at which time Stamey returned to the Big Apple to set up his own label, Car Records. In addition to issuing the posthumous Sneakers collection In the Red in 1978, Car also issued the magnificent "I Am the Cosmos," the lone solo single of ex-Big Star mastermind Chris Bell; concurrently, Stamey played live with Bell's onetime Big Star partner Alex Chilton, and in 1977 issued a solo single, "The Summer Sun." When Rigby and bassist Gene Holder relocated to New York, Stamey joined them as the dB's, releasing the 1978 single "If and When" before expanding to a four-piece with the addition of Holsapple. Although the dB's quirky yet melodic approach anticipated the emergence of the southern jangle pop explosion, the band never earned the same attention afforded to acts like R.E.M. -- initially, they couldn't even land an American record deal, and their first two albums (the much-acclaimed 1981 efforts Stands for Decibels and Repercussion) appeared only in Britain. Stamey left the dB's in 1983, issuing the solo LP It's a Wonderful Life later that same year; after issuing 1984's Instant Excitement EP, he recorded and toured with the Golden Palominos, squeezing in the Christmas Time mini-album in 1986. A year later, Stamey signed with A&M to make his long-awaited major-label debut with the superb It's Alright; despite uniformly solid reviews, the album made almost no commercial impact, and he spent the next several years as a producer and guest musician, completing an album which A&M reportedly rejected. The LP finally appeared on Rhino in 1991 under the title Fireworks; that same year, he reunited with Holsapple for Mavericks. For 1995's The Robust Beauty of Improper Models in Decision Making, Stamey made a radical shift away from his pop past, teaming with cornetist/guitarist Kirk Ross for an exercise in free improvisation. Stamey spent the remainder of the decade focusing on producing records for other artists at his Modern studio in Chapel Hill, but returned to his own recording career with 2004's Travels in the South. Less than a year later, Stamey had another new album ready for release, a collaboration with Yo La Tengo and Tyson Rogers credited to the Chris Stamey Experience and titled A Question of Temperature (2005). A few years after A Question of Temperature, Stamey reunited with Peter Holsapple, releasing Here and Now in 2009 and supporting it with a tour. Stamey then turned his attention to an ambitious live staging of Big Star's third album Sister Lovers, acting as the musical director for the star-studded concerts. The first of these debuted at Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina in December of 2010 and over the next few years, Stamey brought Big Star's Third to London and to 2012's South by Southwest festival. That year also saw the reunion of the dB's, who played live and released the new album Falling Off the Sky that summer. Stamey continued with his busy workload in early 2013 with the release of the dreamy solo album Lovesick Blues. Two years later, he released Euphoria, an album which touched upon many of his pop obsessions. ~ Jason Ankeny
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Rock - Released May 18, 1987 | A&M
Chris Stamey's second full-length solo album -- and the only album in his entire decades-long career to be released on a major label -- is the most uncomplicated and genuinely poppy album of his career, even including the first two dB's albums. The opening track, "Cara Lee," with its girl's name title and sweetly repetitive guitar hook and chorus, is almost as if Stamey is saying "OK, see? I can do songs like this. I just choose not to." Point made, the rest of the album subtly transforms that brand of jangly guitar pop into interesting, new shapes. Stamey's songwriting is exceptional -- the gloriously romantic "From the Word Go" is one of Stamey's finest songs, and the new version of Instant Excitement's winsome "When We're Alone" smokes the original -- and the simple production (mostly by Stamey, with a couple of tracks produced by Scott Litt) avoids the generic late-'80s tropes that mar even some of the better albums of the era. Highlights include the stark "The Seduction," a halting, angular ballad played very simply with Stamey's acoustic guitar and Jane Scarpatoni's cello, and the dreamy, almost psychedelic "27 Years in a Single Day." ~ Stewart Mason
Rock - Released October 22, 1991 | A&M
Chris Stamey's Fireworks wasn't released until 1991, but it was originally recorded in 1988 as Stamey's second solo album for A&M records, who rejected the resulting tapes as too weird and uncommercial. One wonders if anyone at A&M had ever actually heard any of Stamey's music (other than 1987's uncharacteristically straightforward It's Alright, his sole A&M release), since "weird and uncommercial" are the North Carolina-based rocker's calling cards. In fact, Fireworks is less extreme than earlier experiments like It's a Wonderful Life, but songs like the title track, an impressionistic soundscape of overdubbed guitars, are hardly Top 40 fare. Guests include ex-Sneakers bandmate Mitch Easter, Peter Buck, and NRBQ's Terry Adams, but this is definitely Stamey's show all the way. His idiosyncratic songwriting sense (the liner notes claim, not entirely helpfully, that the opaque "The Brakeman's Consolation" is an answer song to an old Cher single) and knack for sweetly memorable melodies battle it out throughout the album, giving Fireworks an odd but productive tension. It's Alright has the edge in terms of songwriting, but this is perhaps a more interesting album overall. ~ Stewart Mason
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