I believe that the Velvet Underground’s transition from “Sweet Jane” to “Rock & Roll” links one of the most inspired track pairings in history. For me those songs are forever mated; listening to “Sweet Jane” and then skipping “Rock & Roll” is like eating a meal and skipping dessert. Unless you absolutely have to, you don’t do it. My favorite Rolling Stones record is Between the Buttons. Yes, yes, we all know Exile on Main St. is a masterpiece, but it just doesn’t speak to me like Between the Buttons does. And honestly, Pet Sounds is the only Beach Boys record I can listen to all the way through. We’re staying away, of course, from the hulking white elephants of Dylan and the Beatles – I agree with the philosophy of Jack White, never trust anyone who doesn’t like those two giants.
But maybe you’re wondering what I’m getting at here; maybe you just don’t obsess over sixties and seventies pop music the way I do. If that’s the case, then let me spell it out for you: if you’ve agreed with any of these points – or even if you just really like Wes Anderson’s soundtracks – then go buy Kelley Stoltz’s Below the Branches right now.
Below the Branches, the follow-up to Stoltz’s self-released 2003 album Antique Glow, is a playful and creative record, a record which breeds empathy and nostalgia. Tracks such as “Memory Collector” pull even the oldest of souls back into those childhood moments when electricity crackled behind the scenes; everything was new and unsteady, but that’s what made it exciting. And then there’s “The Rabbit Hugged the Hound,” which feels so much like VU’s Loaded it hurts – in a good way. It’s undeniable that musical nostalgia, as well as personal, is part and parcel of Stoltz’s songwriting approach. But for all his “retro” stylings, never does Stoltz rip off any of the artists from whom he so obviously draws inspiration; instead, there is a delicacy and sensitivity to be found throughout this album which makes the singer-songwriter’s influences noticeable, but never overpowering.
Frankly, Below the Branches is so solid that for this reviewer there are no regrets. Every last song is a multi-faceted kaleidoscope with its own individual, blue-green powers. Some people may disdain Below the Branches for not being sleek enough; not a single track sounds as if it were produced after 1972, nor is there any of the current indie high-fashion discordance present. And perhaps that is why it comes as such a relief. Despite all of its lofty influences, there will never be another album quite like this. There will never be a wave of Kelley Stoltz imitators and imposters…no one else today could make this record. Thank God for Kelley Stoltz.
Reviewed by Megan Giddings
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