New Songs For The 20th Century
Release date: June 28, 2019
Double album written, arranged, and mixed by Chris Stamey
The way Chris tells it, “One day in 2015, an old piano arrived at my home, with a bench full of magic: songs by Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Henry Mancini, Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein… many more. I fell head-first under their spell, awakening three years later with a long white beard and this collection: 27 songs on two CDs, written and arranged ‘under the influence,’ performed by some of my favorite singers and players.”
Vocalists on the two volumes of this lush, orchestrated, jazz-flavored outing include jazz legend Nnenna Freelon, pop icons Marshall Crenshaw, Don Dixon, and Caitlin Cary (Whiskeytown), North Carolina stalwarts Skylar Gudasz and Brett Harris, and exciting newcomers Millie McGuire, Kirsten Lambert, and Faith Jones. Highlights are Branford Marsalis and vocalist Django Haskins (The Old Ceremony) on the album’s Irving Berlin-like overture, “Manhattan Melody (That’s My New York),” and rising-star pianist Ariel Pocock evocatively proclaiming “There’s Not A Cloud In The Sky.” All are backed by the all-star “ModRec Orchestra” (named after Modern Recording, Stamey’s studio home base in Chapel Hill, NC) with Bill Frisell, Nels Cline (Wilco), Matt Douglas (Mountain Goats) and jazz virtuosi Stephen Anderson, John Brown, Will Campbell, and Dave Finucane, to name just a few, taking turns at the microphones.
Inspired by the canon of the Great American Songbook, but with Stamey’s own distinctive melodic and lyrical twists, New Songs For The 20th Century uses Mid-Century Modern chordal harmonies and Algonquin Round Table inflections as a springboard to evoke an earlier era. “I was intrigued by reimagining that period right before The Beatles appeared, before President Kennedy was killed, a time of cynicism mixed with innocence, when it seemed like the world was looking around, catching its breath, and wondering what was to come.”
“What came first here was the sheet music, the notated chords and melodies,” Chris explains. “I’d write out the songs in silence, then simply put the sheets of paper in front of the players and singers and let them interpret what was written, through the filter of their own experiences and finely honed skills. It was fascinating to hear them read the charts through, then bring the tunes to life in ways I’d never expected. After we captured their performances, I would orchestrate for strings and winds as needed, connecting the dots in the old-fashioned way records were made before Leo Fender came along.”
Titles such as “I Don’t Believe In Romance” and “On an Evening Such As This” drape memorable melodies around phrases rich with elegance and sophistication. Included are also full-length, remixed performances (not previously available) of several songs from the nationally broadcast holiday radio musical Occasional Shivers, including “Beneath The Underdog” (titled after the Charles Mingus autobiography), “In-tox-i-cho-cli-fi-ca-tion,” “What Is This Music That I Hear?” and “I Am Yours”… And there are even new versions of a few older Stamey tunes that seemed to want to sing along, including “In Spanish Harlem” and Cline’s and Frisell’s dreamscape treatment of “Insomnia.”
Grab a Manhattan or some champagne, sit down in front of the fireplace, dim the lights, and let these New Songs carry you back to the “pre-postmodern” era of the romantic ’50s and ’60s.
Manhattan Melody (That’s My New York)featuring Django Haskins with Branford Marsalis It’s Been A Whilefeaturing Django Haskins I Don’t Believe In Romancefeaturing Caitlin Cary What Is This Music That I Hear?featuring Kristen Lambert with Bill Frisell Occasional Shiversfeaturing Nnenna Freelon with Will Campbell On The Street Where We Used To Livefeaturing Brett Harris On An Evening Such As Thisfeaturing Kristen Lambert Your Last Forever Afterfeaturing Caitlin Cary There’s Not A Cloud In The Skyfeaturing Ariel Pocock Dear Friendfeaturing Millie McGuire Insomniafeaturing Kristen Lambert with Bill Frisell & Nels Cline I Am Yoursfeaturing Millie McGuire I Fall In Love (So Easily)featuring Millie McGuire Beneath The Underdogfeaturing Marshall Crenshaw, Don Dixon, and Django Haskins In-tox-i-cho-cli-fi-ca-tionfeaturing Django Haskins In Spanish Harlemfeaturing Faith Jones with Brett Harris The Woman Who Walks The Seafeaturing Kristen Lambert For A Musefeaturing Django Haskins Lover, Can You Hear Me?featuring Skylar Gudasz Pretty Butterflyfeaturing Millie McGuire I Didn’t Mean To Fall In Love With Youfeaturing Kristen Lambert Life Is But A Dreamfeaturing Matt McMichaels And I Love Himfeaturing Kristen Lambert Unpredictablefeaturing Millie McGuire and Presyce Baez I Lost Track Of The Timefeaturing Django Haskins Occasional Shivers (Reprise)featuring Presyce Baez with Dave Finucane