With a band comprised of topnotch New York musicians, singer-songwriter Michael Stumm delivers an album of character sketches and urban tales as unique as his own life experiences and perspective. The album The Lonesome High, features 12 songs--all titled after real people. The roots-country lead track "Danny Thomas" sets the tone with Stumm's Dylanesque, Lou Reedy vocal recounting a surreal visit to the legendary TV star's imaginary office during a total eclipse of the sun. "Christopher Lee" is dreamy, too-but in a different way: A lullaby worthy of Simon & Garfunkel, in being named after one of the cinema's great horror players it delivers utmost irony. Also highly ironic is "Karen Black," thanks to it's "I hate rock 'n roll" chorus-within the musical context of a New York Dolls-styled hard rocker. Sure "I'd rather read a book [or] write a poem," sings Stumm in the song named for the esteemed Oscar-nominated ("Five Easy Pieces") actress, but thankfully, the music belies it. Meanwhile, the comparatively obscure actress Mimsy Farmer (star of such classic '60s teen-oriented B-movies as "Hot Rods to Hell" and "Riot on Sunset Strip") inspired Stumm's acoustic, Byrds-like look at an Arizona landscape. Likewise, "Cookie Mueller," a folk-rock song a la Jefferson Airplane, is motivated by another lesser known actress (and former girlfriend of Stumm's), who starred in the John Waters classics "Pink Flamingos" and "Polyester"; it and the stark, album-closing "Buster Keaton" both deal with the desolation of hardcore drug addiction. Two songs also merit special mention: the appropriately mournful, solo acoustic guitar tune "Spalding Gray," and the beautifully arranged rocker "Willem Dafoe." Both the late actor/playwright Gray and Dafoe-and Stumm-- were part of New York's celebrated Wooster Group theater ensemble. Dafoe, in fact, has been friends with fellow Midwestern Stumm for over 15 years, and is the executive producer of The Lonesome High. The album's producer is Scott Sherratt, an engineer on Grammy-nominated recordings, an album producer for acclaimed playwright Richard Maxwell's songs, and a longtime New York musician and friend of Stumm. Sherratt put together the backing band that is The Lonesome High: Besides Sherratt on guitars, bass and vocals, they are drummer Frankie Lombardi, who has played for Lucky Peterson and the Dickey Betts Band, and Eric Lichter, who plays lap steel, dobro and harmonica--and is a marvelous vocalist in his own right who has performed with the likes of Carly Simon, Evan Dando and Valerie Carter while releasing his solo album "Chorduroy". Like Sherratt, Lombardi and Lichter are big fans of Stumm, and bring their own special talents to the project. Sherratt wisely kept the production simple, letting the songs speak for themselves with minimal but sure-handed assistance. The result is a solid album of deeply personal but accessible songs that flow together from start to finish, seamlessly progressing in music and lyrics in depicting the grittier side of city life.
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