I’ve been on kind of a front porch blues kick, listening to more acoustic acts and even seeing some live performances. I went back to see what I have received lately that might fill that need and found an album that was released in early February by musician-singer-songwriter Jason Robert that I knew would do the trick.
The album is titled The Death Of Stone Stanley, and it is one of the most emotionally raw works that I’ve heard in a long time. There are no lighthearted songs that break the mood that Robert creates, this is a first song to last exploration of a person’s pain and resignation through trials and tribulations and finally acceptance of the inevitable end.
This is not an album for those who want 18-minute shredding guitar solos. This is for those who want to listen to stripped down thoughtful music that contains lyrics that make you appreciate the art of songwriting. Interested? Read on…
The album starts off with the somber Someday. Immediately there is a mixture of pain and possibilities. The story is set and sorrow is acknowledged, but the author still retains hope to get past the troubles. Love the great guitar work and the percussion adds a dirge-like feel to it. I’m already appreciating the emotion used to create the world of Stone Stanley.
Blind Willie Johnson's Soul Of A Man follows and Robert delivers a faithful telling of the song. If you look at the cover of this album, it’s a solitary man standing next to a church, and that’s the feeling I get from the song. This is the journey of a solitary man holding on to the power of faith in an ever troubling world. Very good interpretation of a classic tune with personal touches.
Next up is All I Need, a bouncy song that offers up what Stone Stanley is looking for in life. While it adds an uplifting arrangement to the proceedings, it still maintains the mood of the album. This is part of the healing power of the blues and it gives us a further glimpse into the good times.
I confess to not being aware of the historical person Mr. Lester F. Bell, who ran a horrible conditioned labor camp in California. Robert has extrapolated from that situation, a more universal fable about evil and controversial men in our world with his song, Mr. Bell. The slow approach to the number adds to its power and Robert’s deep resonant voice is mesmerizing.
Some beautiful harmonica opens the traditional Irish folk tune Moonshiner. In Robert’s hands the song becomes as blues as possible. It’s another song of pure emotion and misplaced love. It’s a personal story of an addiction of alcohol that takes the singer past other pleasures to get to the one thing that drives him, and just may be his downfall. Lovely tune with some very plaintive guitar and pained vocals.
The next song, You Gotta Move, is most often associated with Mississippi Fred McDowell but has actually been around since the late 1800s. Robert uses McDowell’s version as a jumping off place and puts his own stamp on it. Very nice version of a classic number.
He follows up with an original song, Good Vibes, that linguistically may be the most diverse song. It echoes All I Need in mood but moves the lyrics into a slightly different direction. Here he uses “vibrations” when others might use “soul” or “spirit” and he adds some small chimes which give the song a more ethereal feel. Listen to the lyrics however and you’ll find that they stay consistent with the album.
Next up is an original, Sat Around, that reminds me in the best way of the late Ted Hawkins. A beautiful arrangement to accommodate a solo voice and guitar. I think this one is going to go on to my personal playlist and anytime I feel melancholy I’m going to hit “play” and feel better.
Never Gonna Die is a very intriguing proposition if we are all souls that move from one state to another, will we ever truly die? Bodies might, but will our consciousness (or whatever form the spirit takes) also die? Many religious and philosophical traditions suggest that we won’t, but I’ll leave that for Theologians and Philosophers to debate. All I can say is I don’t know, but I can say unequivocally that this is a good song that could and should spark debate, even if it’s in the listener's own mind. It’s obvious that the blues are never going to die, and as long as there are blues, there are chances to hear great music – which is kind of a paradise…
Perhaps the most gospel blues song of all time is Blind Willie Johnson's John The Revelator. Robert delivers a great version, stripping the song down to its barest essentials, even removing the call-and-response from the chorus in favor of just his vocals, some sweet guitar, and percussion. This is a beautiful version and you better believe I’ll be playing this song a lot. I don’t usually do this, but I want you to experience this song right now. Here’s a link to his video for it on YouTube, and I encourage you to take five minutes and watch his performance.
Caution, it will definitely move you…
Another original, Hereafter, follows and it’s a sweet slow number that feels uplifting for the world to come. When you’ve faced all the obstacles, will there be some kind of reward for enduring everything and remaining good to the end? I love the joy and optimism that Robert delivers and hope that it’s true for all of us.
The album concludes with a wonderful song, Woke Up This Morning, in which Stone Stanley has crossed over from this life to the next and is reborn. The troubles and cares of his previous life are gone and he has found focus and peace. Is it a literal death, or just the death of the shackles that held him down? That’s a question everyone will have to answer for him or herself. I can tell you that it’s a powerful song that will stay with me for some time to come.
Jason Robert is now firmly on my radar and I will be looking for his music going forward. This is for those blues fans who appreciate a variety of traditional blues and who might not shy away from having their music cause them to think. The Death Of Stone Stanley won’t put you out on the dance floor, but it just might heal your soul. It certainly helped me during a dark time.
If you want to experience this journey for yourself, be sure to check out Robert’s website here.
Since I did it earlier with John The Revelator, if you want to see more, here’s a video Robert did for Mr. Bell. Check it out…