Stephen Winston memorably begins his fifth album Unresolved with the track “Sun on the Boats”, the title alone indicating the level of attention and focus Winston routinely brings to his songwriting. His musical acumen is quite high, each of Unresolved’s nine songs clearly illustrates that, but his lyrical gifts are every bit as considerable. “Sun on the Boats” couples sharply observed imagery with some beautifully arranged piano playing that never oversteps. Instead, the melodic weave achieved by Winston’s singing and the lyrical piano work rates among the finest moments on this release. There’s a lot of variety on the album – the title song takes us away from the vocal/piano approach of the opener in favor of a more folky approach and Winston proves he’s just as comfortable in that musical environment. His confidence is mightily impressive to move from style to style with no audible slip in his substance.
“Maidens” moves the album from the spartan terrain of the opener into a full band composition. The drumming here is the main difference between this and “Sun on the Boats”, but the mood remains the same despite varying Winston’s musical angle. The steady percussion stomp is well recorded, never omnipresent, and there’s some tasty electric guitar punctuating it with welcome grit – the lead break near the end of the song is particularly effective. Winston brings in some light backing vocals to support his singing and they provide a gossamer like ethereal touch.
The title song opens as a straight forward singer/songwriter number in the folk tradition, but it soon slides into pure ballad with the introduction of piano into the arrangement. The direct qualities of Winston’s singing are especially well framed with this song and the extended treatment the song receives, compared to the rest of the material, is fitting for an obvious marquee number. The gentle rise with the song’s chorus will affect all but the most cynical of listeners.
The album’s fourth track, “Rainbow County”, ups the tempo some and it’s a welcome shift. This has a strong Americana feel from the first and the near shuffle pace is well served by the jangling acoustic guitar and stripped down drumming. There’s a lovely rolling quality heard in the song’s chorus that pays off with its concluding line and more ethereal backing vocals. He revisits piano with the song “Maybe It’s for James” and the classical strands hinted at with earlier songs emerges full bodied with this number. The strings never sound out of place and, instead, strengthen the song’s melodic foundation. It’s a stunner from the album and satisfied me in every way.
The sweeping piano opening “Remember” hits upon the same mood dominating the album thus far, serious but never mired in despair, and the naked vulnerability of pairing Winston’s voice with such a musical landscape pays off even bigger as he continues fleshing out the song’s possibilities with each additional development. “The Last Night” proves to be a fine final curtain for Unresolved, overflowing with emotion, but never descending into bathos. Instead, it reflects the same core attributes embodying the preceding eight songs – confessional-styled lyrics, an undeniable urge to communicate with listeners, and a nuanced musical arrangement aimed for the heart. Stephen Winston’s fifth album will stand for some time as his finest work yet.
Unresolved, overflowing with emotion, but never descending into bathos. Instead, it reflects the same core attributes embodying the preceding eight songs – confessional-styled lyrics, an undeniable urge to communicate with listeners, and a nuanced musical arrangement aimed for the heart. Stephen Winston’s fifth album will stand for some time as his finest work yet.