If you read the biographies of The Stoller brothers, Brad and Lesley, and peg them as aging, unrepentant folkies, you couldn’t be more wrong. Their debut full-length album, Stationary Sun, further gives lie to any ideas that middle age and beyond robs artists of their artistic vitality and youthful imaginations. Their songwriting covers such a wide swath of influences over twelve songs that our given space for this review feels inadequate to remark on the multiple strains. Their reference points are voluminous. Folk, funk, rock, blues, country music, classical inclinations, and R&B meet in these songs and never sound arbitrary. This is music unabashed and unafraid.
“Into the Brand New Day” opens Stationary Sun with a sense of purpose. It isn’t a song beating its chest and braying for the listener’s attention. It has a pronounced Crosby Stills and Nash influence, excluding the trademark three part harmonies of the aforementioned act, but any outright influences they display are never imitative. All artists draw from the same wells of inspiration and The Stollers excel at flooding those waters with newfound flavor. “Only a Penny” has uncommon, meandering grace and a variety of instrumental voices mixed into a compelling stew. Slide guitar fills and brass comfortably co-exists alongside flashes of mandolin and deep in the pocket drumming. The Stollers keep the musical mood pensive with “Open Your Eyes”, a delicately crafted ballad with sparse acoustic guitar and stripped back lyrics that don’t waste a word. The introduction of additional backing vocalists strengthens the track’s ethereal qualities. “You Can Come Home (With Me)” is a high point thanks to a flawless marriage between lyric, music, and vocal. It ranks as, perhaps, the album’s most thoughtful lyric and appears to examine a longstanding relationship, fraught with years of complication, withstanding life’s turmoil.
“Food in the Morning Blues” moves with a low-key simmer recalling Simon and Garfunkel with a much darker hue. There are moments when the song seems to need a more definite shape as it hangs from a rather threadbare musical hook, but its shape becomes clearer midway through and it ends strongly. “Song For Ann” is another ballad built off the piano but ornamented with numerous instrumental voices. The deceptively simple lyric personifies the duo’s penchant for plainspoken poetry. “The Two Julians” is another inventive musical ride with a varied, improbable arrangement and an engrossing narrative revolving around the two characters in the title. The album’s last song, “Water Wheel”, is a gorgeous piano instrumental with a glistening melody that will linger long after the final note fades.
by Lydia Hillenburg