Much-travelled Carolinian marks return with compelling, grown-up pop record

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Southern Belter

Raised in the psychedelic era of light shows and rock jams, North Carolina’s Chris Stamey was always something of a minimalist. He first came to prominence as part of the scene that spawned Big Star and the second Memphis explosion, becoming a cult figure thanks to the power-pop records he released fronting The Sneakers and The dB’s in the ’70s. But after a run of fine albums, including It’s A Wonderful Life and Instant Excitement, Stamey appeared to have put his solo career on hold. Instead, he turned his hand to production in the ’90s for Whiskeytown, Le Tigre, Flat Duo Jets and a raft of country and electronic acts, and dabbled with prepared guitar excursions, besides the occasional reunion with old dB’s pal Peter Holsapple.

Travels In The South, however, finds Stamey in fine form again, jamming hard when the mood dictates on “Ride” and “Kierkegaard”, yet willing to take a reflective view on the title track and the haunting soundscape of “In Spanish Harlem”. Ben Folds, Ryan Adams and Jefferson Holt help out, but this is no cosy old pals’ act. Instead, the songs take a meditative look at Stamey’s generation, “when the Summer of Love became the Summer of Drugs”.

The presence of fellow southern star Don Dixon and Greg Reading’s delicious pedal-steel ensure an uncluttered feel, while the wracked, emotive pop tunes associated with early Stamey still suggest themselves in “Insomnia” and the lush, harmony-soaked “14 Shades Of Green”. It all results in an album every bit as good as anything from Stamey’s more exalted contemporaries. It’s good to have this genuinely nice guy back on board.