There’s a lot to unpack with Stephen Winston’s new album, One True Story. It’s a collection of songs that had been until previously, vaulted and according to Winston, there was some question as to whether or not the songs themselves had even been salvaged. Thanks to Winston’s longtime collaborator, Michael Pfeifer, the tracks were well preserved. Winston has said that the album could have gone a more traditional route, instead of resurfacing by proxy, but that intention was not held at the time. For that matter, there is very little that is traditional about Winston’s career trajectory.
Stephen Winston didn’t really fancy himself a songwriter when he composed the majority of material for One True Story. He taught himself how to play guitar and piano in college, and while that is indeed impressive, it still left him playing quite a game of catch up. He then entered into the corporate world and didn’t start taking his music, seriously, until after finding success in that world. His sound is best described as Adult Contemporary or Soft Rock, with a slight experimental twist. His approach to songwriting is unorthodox at times, in particular, his lyrics.
“Outside The Ring,” strongly stands out from a compositional standpoint. It has an Elton John roll to it, and holds potential as a single. More of a driving beat, than others on the record, Winston also enlists a female backing vocalist to great effect. “Hoping it’s just a dream/hoping it’s just a lie to yourself,” Winston seems to be in a struggle with some form of denial, or internal conflict. Stephen is particularly good at taking psychologically vexing subject matter and delivering it with whimsical and carefree detachment.
“All this noise/and nothing I can hear,” is the opening line to “Noise.” At 2:43, it clocks in at possibly the shortest song on the record. “Noise” contains some of Winston’s best lyrical work, as he cleverly uses wordplay and metaphors. The guitar work is also among the best on the album, as the acoustic really shines and compliments Winston’s folky vocals. This one is a blink and you might miss it, but is an overall nice addition to One True Story.
It is quite remarkable that this record has such a sense of cohesion to it, considering it is essentially a random collection of songs. At the same time, most of these were penned during a certain period of Winston’s life, which was somewhat definitive. There is a lot going on with this record, musically, but it doesn’t always feel or even sound like it. You can hear Winston, literally growing in the studio. This album shows his propensity for arrangements and stylistic techniques., and I could see him embracing production as time goes on.
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One True Story is an album that leaves an impression on you. You won’t hear many things like it in 2021, and aside from being simply unique, this record is helping keep an underappreciated genre, alive. One True Story is certainly a mood piece, and though I won’t say it brings you down, it certainly neutralizes you. We can hear Winston’s progression from the opening number to the final act. It makes it all the more fascinating, to know this story is based on actual events.
by Chadwick Easton