Peter Holsapple & Chris Stamey, Here and Now

Published on July 30th, 2009 in: Current Faves, Issues, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews |

By Less Lee Moore

It’s been 17 years since Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey recorded an album together. The first time it was the Mavericks album in 1992 and as Holsapple notes, “[It] was recorded and mixed in one fell swoop; this one took a couple years and a hurricane to complete.”

here and now

That hurricane was of course, Katrina, which hit the US Gulf Coast in August 2005. We are all familiar with what happened in Mississippi and Louisiana, specifically in New Orleans, where Holsapple had been living for 13 years. The new Holsapple & Stamey album, Here and Now, addresses those experiences in the song “Begin Again.” Holsapple doesn’t shy away from difficult memories, but true to his musical nature, he doesn’t wallow, either. He simply asks the question: where do you go when there’s no place to go back to? It might seem simple enough, but for those of us from New Orleans, it resonates profoundly and painfully.

There are more songs about loss and wondering on the album, such as Chris Stamey’s “Bird On The Wing,” And just as Holsapple displays his many unique talents on Here and Now, so does Stamey. His lovely vocals and distinctive North Carolina accent (check out the way he sings “snow”) give the song a yearning quality which is perfect for its subject matter. Both “Song For Johnny Cash” and “To Be Loved” are Stamey songs, and both have a timeless quality and wonderful pedal steel guitar.

Holsapple and Stamey share songwriting and performing duties on the album, with a little help from their friends. In fact, former dB’s members Will Holder and Gene Rigby contribute to “Santa Monica,” which has a sad, yet pretty quality that evokes west coast sunsets. The entire album has a great summertime feeling, one introduced immediately by the first track, “My Friend The Sun,” a cover of a Family song from the 70s. The beautiful chord changes set the tone for the other original tunes on Here and Now.

The title track is actually an older Holsapple song, one which showed up on his solo album Get Out Of My Way from 1997. Hearing this version reminds me why I love his music so much. His voice may not be able to hit those early 80s high notes, but it’s so warm and comforting, it doesn’t matter. “Here and Now” describes music’s power to connect and transcend while also displaying Holsapple’s incredible gift for lyrics, such as the interplay between “here and now” and “hearing now.”

“Broken Record,” written and sung by Stamey, is another song about music’s power to connect and transcend. . . even the medium in which we listen to that music. It shows off Stamey’s gentle, confessional style with gorgeous harmonies and flute accompaniment. It has some double meanings of its own: “it will always be me and you,” Stamey muses, and one wonders if he means his lover or his record (or both). The clever ending, which mimics a skipping record, opens the door for the short instrumental break “Ukulele” and its own vaguely warped sound qualities.

stamey holsapple
Peter Holsapple & Chris Stamey

Here and Now has its share of more upbeat tunes as well. “Early In The Morning” has saxophone from Branford Marsalis and sounds a bit like something from Mavericks. “Widescreen World” features handclaps, great guitar work, snippets of dialogue, and Holsapple’s vocals, though it was written by Stamey. This is beach music for sure. The charms of the catchy “Some Of The Parts” include banjo, pedal steel, and a Hammond organ, not to mention Holsapple’s knack for chord changes and clever lyrics as well as a delightful twist at the end. “Long Time Coming” has more great Stamey harmonies and Holsapple wordplay, showing how he can change one word and then transform the entire thrust of a lyric.

The album ends with “Tape Op Blues” (an allusion to Phil Spector?). Stamey’s vocals are more distinctive and plaintive than ever (I cannot adequately explain how much I adore his accent in words like coccon, smoke, joke, microphone, and alone). It’s another song about music and the process of writing, recording, and performing it, but it also tells a story. Since storytelling is something Holsapple does too, I imagine that it is this shared love—of stories, and music, and stories about music—which binds these two exceptional songwriters and musicians together no matter how much time and distance may separate them.

Here and Now is available directly from Bar None Records via the Peter & Chris website. The two have spent all of July touring for the album and their next show is August 2, at the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland, KY. Their website indicates that more shows are coming soon, so be sure to stay tuned. You can also check out their MySpace page.

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