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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Pop - Released June 28, 2019 | Omnivore Recordings
It didn't happen overnight, but when rock & roll became America's principal popular music by the end of the '60s and youth culture came to dominate the nation's listening habits, a certain sort of sophisticated pop music, informed by jazz, show tunes, and the standards that were the bread and butter of mature vocalists, began to fade away. It never disappeared completely in the truest sense, but when songwriters like George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, and Johnny Mercer were no longer regular visitors to the hit parade, a different sort of tunesmith took their place for most listeners. The work of Jimmy Webb, Paul Simon, and Lennon & McCartney, among many others, displayed a maturity and intelligence that made their work a good fit for a rich variety of singers, but not many people have explicitly tried to revive the sound and approach of grown-up pre-rock pop. Chris Stamey -- best known as the founder of power pop icons the dB's -- would, in some respects, seem a curious choice to take up this tradition, but there's no arguing he's a gifted writer, producer, and arranger, and he's embraced his fascination with mid-century vocal pop and made it the basis for his 2019 album New Songs for the 20th Century. Employing a small orchestra of instrumentalists and vocalists (including Bill Frisell, Branford Marsalis, Nels Cline, Matt Douglas, Marshall Crenshaw, Django Haskins, Kristin Lambert, and Caitlin Cary), Stamey has written and recorded 26 songs that evoke the sound and feel of another age, created with an eye toward polished craft and with barely an acknowledgement of rock & roll. This album conjures a sleek, after-dark feel of classy night spots and late-night rendezvous, with romance both successful and otherwise a common theme. But what's most impressive about New Songs for the 20th Century is that it never sounds like a pastiche or parody, as if Stamey is borrowing from the past as a gesture unto itself. Obviously inspired by music popular in another era, these songs are still clearly of the present day, especially as they ponder how big city life has changed in one man's lifetime (how that favorite restaurant is now a laundromat and the unavoidability of coffee places hawking internet service). These tunes are well-suited for the evocative sound and arrangements Stamey and his crew bring to them, and he doesn't overdo it -- the effect is lush but never overcooked, and the vocalists approach the songs with an admirable degree of nuance. This is music that reflects adult lives, with the tough questions and emotional consequences they imply, but without spoiling the fun, and Stamey never lets us forget that. New Songs for the 20th Century is a brave, ambitious experiment that works remarkably well; few rock songwriters have been able to reinvent themselves so completely, and fewer still seem so at ease with their adopted approach. It's a one-of-a-kind album and a rich delight. ~ Mark Deming
Pop - Released May 31, 2019 | Omnivore Recordings
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