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Album Review: Never Go Your Way (The Stillsons)


September 26, 2013 by Kim Lajoie

The Stillsons’ third album is an exercise in deliberation and consolidation. They know what they’re doing, and they do it well. There’s an overall sense of ease here – the band are excellent songwriters and musicians, and they’ve got nothing to prove. They’re doing what they’re good at, and we all get to enjoy it.

 

Right from the get-go, the opening track Feel So Young kicks off the Cat Canteri’s confident soft vocals. The track develops into a lush arrangement of guitars, drums, bass which blend together as if they were all one instrument. It’s a great album opener that sets the scene for the following eleven songs.  Another Lover jumps around a bit more, switching between an attention-seeking marching snare drum and softer flowing melodic verses. The effect should be jarring, but The Stillsons pull it off expertly. Later in the song, dual electric guitars solo in perfect harmony. Again, all the pieces fit together beautifully.

 

The third track, Small Things takes a country turn, something that start out almost humorously. Justin Bernasconi (The Stillsons’ second vocalist) takes the vocal lead here. In  contrast with the album’s first two songs, Justin adds a sense of lightness and levity to the Stillsons’ sound. In a few places it feels a bit like Justin is holding back, but for the most part he’s right on cue with the right vibe. It might also be the mix, which places the vocals a little back behind the guitars.  The album then moves into Use the Phone, a more relaxed track that opens with some after-supper acoustic guitar strumming. Justin sings on this song, and here his voice really comes into its own. We get to hear a softer, more earnest side of Justin that is really beautiful and is more consistent with Cat’s vocals.

 

Stay Awake then jolts us awake again with an upbeat pop beat and some lovely slide guitar. The harmony vocals work really well in this song – soft and lush, without being too saccharine or overpowering.  Break and Keel is the sixth track on the album, and now at the halfway point of the album we return back to Cat Canteri on lead vocals. The delivery is at once deliberate and effortless. Here, Cat’s voice brings the Stillsons’ sound together in a way that sounds like the band is a country/pop love child of Cocteau Twins and Mazzy Star.

 

Everything then takes us into more familiar country territory. The slide guitar, half-time drums and more traditional lyrical content all server to remind us that, even with their pop ambitions, the Stillsons haven’t lost their country soul. It’s also on this song that Cat and Justin share lead vocal duties, to excellent effect.  The eighth track, Go Home, features some lovely extended guitar solos. Justin’s lead vocals are soft and sincere and, while this song doesn’t stand out from the other excellent songs on the album, it’s an superb showcase for the band’s two guitarists (Justin and Ben Franz).

 

And then, Family On the Run suddenly gives us a taste of rock. Justin’s overdriven guitar and Cat’s peppy drums give us another angle. We also get a return of Justin’s overdriven guitar on his solo toward the end of the song.  The album’s second-last track, You Don’t Know What I Need, lets Cat explore a more bluesy side of her voice. Unfortunately, she only just gets started before an extended guitar solo kicks in. When Cat gets back, however, she shows us it wasn’t a fluke – there’s a bit of attitude and bite hiding in that voice! It’s a shame her drumming doesn’t step up to match.  Finally, the album closes with Smile, Smile, Smile. A slight departure from the rest of the album, this song is a restrained piano-based song with hints of bittersweet nostalgia. The piano is a slight bit honky, but is full of character. Unfortunately, Cat’s vocals are a little too restrained. It would be great to hear a more heartfelt performance here.

 

Overall, Never Go Your Way is an accomplished piece of work. With this release, The Stillsons show that they’ve come a long way and have a clear understanding of their sound. They pull it off with deliberation and clarity, and are showing no signs of slowing down.

You can listen and buy the Stillsons album Never Go Your Way here

The views expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the views of Melting Pot.


Author Details

Kim Lajoie

Kim writes about the human side of music production (attitudes, psychology, workflow, etc) on his blog (blog.kimlajoie.com) and other websites. He also teaches music composition at Monash University and runs the record label Obsessive Music.


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