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Music Review: Stew and the Negro Problem – Making It

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When you Google image search for “Stew Making It,” publicity photos of Stew and Heidi Rodewald compete for screen time with crock pots of homemade stew. They look delicious, and done. For good and for bad, this suits their new album, Making It: full of delicious melodies, but done like their relationship.

Stew’s earlier recordings have not lacked for raw emotion, though this was sometimes masked by impenetrability. Guest Host’s “Ordinary Love” achieved the neat trick of conveying heartbreak even when lyrics like “casting holy nets while slippery fish give the high sign” make you wonder. It’s the power of music over words, and a strangely romantic surrealism. But Stew and Heidi took the less abstract lyrics of Passing Strange to New York, and boom—growing fame and a Broadway hit.

Making It seems an ironic title. Stew tells interviewers that he felt successful at the age of 17, simply when he “made that decision: To be in a band.” Perhaps the boisterous opening instrumental, which sounds like a Broadway overture played by an adept house band, is ironic as well. On the one hand the singer-songwriter has made it to the big leagues; on the other he is no longer making it with his long-time partner, Heidi, who was initially reluctant to even make the album.

The tension and talent makes this a bittersweet collaboration indeed. “Curse” is typical of the plaintive tone, as “you watch your love turn into a ghost.” Stew and Heidi alternate choruses on this centerpiece. He sounds on the edge of tears, she gives a cooler reading, and you wonder what this says about the breakup. But Stew finds room for humor on the album, albeit in a song about racial profiling, “Black Men Ski.”

Lyrical references include the William Holden movie The World of Suzy Wong. The making of Making It bears some resemblance to bittersweet films produced in the midst of troubled breakups: Nicholas Ray and Gloria Grahame during In a Lonely Place, Jennifer Jones and Robert Walker in Since You Went Away. For those of you who may wear black on Valentine’s Day, Making It will be appropriate listening. For happier times, Stew’s Shakespearean “Love Like That,” about a mother’s unfailing love, will be a better bet. And take some heart in this: Stew and Heidi continue to collaborate: their next project, The Total Bent, premieres on a New York stage next month, just in time for Valentine’s Day. 

 

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About Pat Padua

Pat Padua is a writer, photographer, native Washingtonian, and Oxford comma defender. The Washington Post called him "a talented, if quirky, photographer." Pat has also contributed to the All Music Guide, Cinescene, and DCist, where he is currently senior film critic.