Artist Spotlight: Max Stalling….

Posted by Payton | Posted in album review, artist spotlight, texas music | Posted on 11-06-2008

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Max Stalling may be a one trick pony on the surface, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find he’s got a whole herd of talent.

A songwriter first and foremost, Max is one of the best composers to have been associated with the Texas Music scene (alongside Mike McClure and Slaid Cleaves – both of whom have been spotlighted here). Max didn’t take up music seriously until after college (he’s a fellow alumnus of Texas A&M). Just as his songs seem to have one foot in the past, Max himself would’ve been perfectly content sharing his music with only those around the campfire on the trail in the 1800’s. But after his talent for songwriting became too obvious to cast aside, Max quit his job with Frito-Lay and took on music full-time, and got right down to business.

Finding the bar-scene in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area welcoming, it wasn’t long before Max had an album’s worth of recording material.

Comfort In The Curves (1997)

Max’s debut remains one of his strongest efforts to date. He introduces himself with an ode to the road, roll-calling a myriad of Texas towns. Songs like Time’s Hand In Your Pocket and Sparks demonstrate his uncanny ability to write from the worn perspective of old wrangler, while Look In My Past and Mockingbird show Max longing for anything except the here-and-now. Heavy on the steel guitar and rural references, Comfort In The Curves is unmistakably country, but retains a cordial sincerity sadly missing in most modern country music.

Bath Water Baby

“I didn’t even pick up a guitar until graduate school. I had no expectation of even being in the music business. I just liked to write songs.”

Wide Afternoon (2000)

Max followed his debut with another solid effort. Runnin’ Buddy can be considered his most popular tune, and Scars and Souvenirs seems like the inverse of Karen Poston/Slaid Cleaves’s Lydia. On Wide Afternoon, he solidifies his reputation for a stellar relationship-song writer with tunes like Blue Eyes, Dime Box TX, and These Reminders. Check out a SMM post i wrote on Simple Girl.

Bass Run
These Reminders

Max has a certain knack for creating great driving music. Maybe this is because the majority of my roadtrips happen to take me across, through, and around Texas, so it seems Max is right there with me narrating the trip with vivid imagery of West Texas scenery and plaintive cowboy songs. i can’t tell you what it is that makes a song fit the open road, but if it makes your destination arrive faster, it’s done its job. Read my post on The Road.

One of the Ways (2002)

If you take one thing away from this artist spotlight, make it the purchase of this album. It was frustrating to narrow it down to only two songs to feature from One of the Ways, and honestly, i left out some of the best. It’s 11 tracks of clever wordplay – all performed with the ease of a seasoned veteran and in a such a style that evokes a Sunday conversation along a fenceline with Max himself. The Pila Song is a compelling story of love-torn rancher that meets his fate at the hands of his own impulsiveness. Max can uniquely turn a simple conversation into a poetic, rhetorical exchange with the listener, evidenced in Probably Corsicana. This album will definitely make my Toolbox List, and when i feature it, you can get a taste of the remainder of gems on this release.

The Pila Song
Probably Corsicana

By none of today’s standards is Max a prolific writer – 5 albums in 10 years – but admittedly, he didn’t plan on making a career out of it. Shortly after the release of One of the Ways, Max’s distributor went out of business, curbing the sale of the album as well as his desire to begin another project.

“On a personal front, there were a whole slew of things that hit me pretty hard…girl problems, the extended illness and passing away of my father, topped off by an audit by our friendly IRS sure kept me from focusing on songwriting. That was a tough stretch of years.”

Sell Out: Live at Dan’s Silver Leaf (2005)

To assuage his fans, Stalling decided to record and release a live album amidst a five year musical recession. Sell Out captures the ardent, hospitable feeling of his shows. Tall, lanky, and bald, Max looks like the least likely guy to take the stage at showtime, but as soon as his does, your reservations wash away. The album only features two new tunes – one of which is an upbeat look back at yesteryear and the music that brought him through it.

6×9 Speakers

“I chalk [my loyal fan base] up to the strength of the songs and the strength of my band”

Topaz City (2007)

Produced by R.S. ‘Bobby’ Field, Topaz City takes on a different ambiance compared to his prior releases. His tight-knit backing band is far more prominent here than before, allowing Max to release more emotion into the songs. But like many of the most recent releases from Texas bands, i’ve found it difficult to get into this one. i blame this on the idea that my tastes have changed considerably since discovering a world of great music outside the confines of the Lone Star State.

Lank & Lonesome & Low & Loose At Both Ends
How Blue Can You Go

Max Stalling is one more notch on the wall of hidden talent that thrives down here in Texas. After finding so much great music through blogs from everywhere under the sun, i felt it was my civic duty to try to expose as many people as i could to the sounds that first made me appreciate the beauty of real music, from real people.

Click on the album covers for direct purchase links.

In The Toolbox: John Prine (1971)

Posted by Payton | Posted in Uncategorized, album review, toolbox | Posted on 09-05-2008

Well, Nelson’s three-for-three for his Essential Albums over at A Fifty Cent Lighter…, so i figured i better get a move on. My second installment of In The Toolbox comes from a 1971 debut disc from one the most respected songwriters alive.

John Prine’s self-titled album is a collection of songs, all of which – every artist that plays music even vaguely resembling ‘folk’ or ‘country’ is secretly jealous of. A perfect example of this is shown in my first experience with John Prine. In 2001, Pat Green & Cory Morrow paid tribute to some of their heroes (and a few contemporaries) with Songs We Wish We’d Written. They included John’s Paradise on the disc – along with their versions of some classic tunes from people like Darrell Scott, Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, Waylon, Merle, and Townes. So many artists today that value songwriting list John as a major influence: Deer Tick, The Roadside Graves, Todd Snider, Hayes Carll, Kasey Chambers, Lucinda Williams, Rodney Crowell, Randy Newman, Johnny Cash – just to name a few.

John Prine – John Prine
Atlantic (1971)

This introduction to John Prine continually reminds us of the simple elegance of lightheartedness and brevity in music. He begins with an acoustic-driven tune about that glorious “escape from reality” that’s just a puff away. Halfway through, John gives us a political number poking fun at those obsessed with puttin’ the American Flag anywhere it’ll stick – and even admits that he’s guilty of it. Scattered throughout the disc are perfectly written lines (“i knew that topless lady had something up her sleeve”) that make us wish we could all look at life with the same loving flippancy as John.

Helping to frame these lyrical gems, and possibly his greatest appeal, is John’s ability to turn a phrase. No one, not even Dylan, has better melodic timing or syllabic choices in their songs. He often goes the less intellectual route in his word choice in order to get that timing just right, and in doing so, shows us just how smart he is.
i’ll leave you with the great advice John gives in Spanish Pipedream: “Blow up your TV. Throw away your paper. Go to the country. Build you a home. Plant a little garden. Eat a lot of peaches. Try and find Jesus on your own.”
John Prine – Illegal Smile
John Prine – Hello In There
John Prine – Sam Stone