Who woulda' known?
Before I get to this review, a disclaimer of sorts is in order.
Steven "Stumbletown" Adams is actually a guy I know. Or at least I knew.
"Stumbletown," or just plain old Steve as I knew him way back then, was this more or less quiet, unassuming sort of guy that I knew in high school. The truth is, he's a guy I went to probably way too many high school kegger parties with.
I always liked Steve too. We shared a fondness for the seventies glam rock of the day, people like Alice Cooper, David Bowie, and T. Rex, for one thing.
But never — not for one second — did I suspect that lying inside this guy I used to drink beer at high school parties with, was so much as an inch of actual musical talent. And, boy was I wrong.
You see guys as old as "Stumbletown" Adams — he's as old as me for Chrissakes — are simply not supposed to rock like this. It's against the laws of nature. But on The Riddle In Doubt, Adams' third full length CD — he started playing music at the ripe old age of 44 — rock he does. Not only that, Adams is a damn fine songwriter to boot.
On The Riddle In Doubt, Adams combines some of the grungiest sounding guitar riffs this side of Pearl Jam, with the sort of lonely — and dare I say it, "boozy," — sort of lyrical place you'd more expect from somebody like Tom Waits. Musically, the album is a bit all over the place, but surprisingly it all works.
The album kicks things right into high gear with it's opening track "Patterns Of Bad Behaviour," which finds Mr. Stumbletown proclaiming that "I have a princess in the castle, cowboys in the saddle, this empty glass my only hassle," all to crunchy New York Dolls sort of riffage (there's that seventies glam influence). It is but the first of many examples of the sort of sophisticated triple phrased lyrics found on this album.
On "Eight Years," Adams turns thing around to tell a hard luck story of how "I screwed up again, I'm just another dog searching for a bone," to some of the sweetest sounding alt-country sort of shit this side of Steve Earle or the Jayhawks. Like many of the songs on The Riddle In Doubt, "Eight Years" seems to take place in a bar (imagine that!).
On the more pensive sounding "Second Hand Smoke," Adams on the one hand pines for the girl who "gets to me like second hand smoke," while on the other hand he seems to be ready to throw in the towel, when he says "I pledge allegiance to resignation".
As for myself, at about this point, I'm actually about ready to resign myself to the fact that this guy I went to school with is, much to my own surprise, a pretty decent songwriter.
It gets even better as the album goes on, and Mr. Stumbletown sings quite emotionally about "crying in a bucket of tears." The guy may not have the greatest vocal register — hey, neither do Dylan or Neil Young — but the lyrics here register deep enough for anyone who has actually been there not to leave a dry eye in the house.
The Riddle In Doubt can be ordered through Shakemusic.
If, like me, you like your music hard as life knocks can be, yet taken with the lyrical introspection of the same sort of experience, then I can absolutely recommend "Stumbletown" Adams' The Riddle In Doubt, personal association — previous or otherwise — not withstanding.
Like I said, who woulda' known?