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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