Stella's Way is an eco/folk/political/punk trio of scientists who write and sing songs. The group who are based in Canberra, Australia, features Stephen Sarre (vocals/acoustic guitar/harmonica), Llara Weaver (vocals/percussion) and Will Higgisson (acoustic/electric/and 12 string guitars). The band has been playing regularly at the "listening" folky type venues around Canberra since their debut in 2018. Their first release Wonderland draws heavily from those live shows. The trio writes music that probes the motivations and trials of life's damaged souls, while also taking the sword to politics through punky, politically motivated, protest songs. Wonderland was recorded, mixed and mastered at Peacock Studios (so named because of the feral peacocks that roam the surrounding streets and gardens), in Narrabundah, ACT, Australia.
It was produced by Dave O'Neill, one of Canberra's leading folk musicians who also played fiddle, bass, slide and mandolin on the recording. The twelve-song album features acoustic guitar on most tracks that are augmented heavily by electric guitar and other instrumentation such as mandolin, fiddle, bass, slide guitar, keyboards and percussion. Jack Rojahn, (drums), is featured on most tracks. The band’s strength features the vocal harmonies of Sarre and Weaver and the dynamic guitar work of Higgisson.
“Very Fine Day” opens with someone lighting up – a cigarette, I presume, and with words that, despite “the radio spitting out a warning,” it’s still “a very fine day.” “Somehow” begins with a beautiful acoustic introduction and equally beautiful vocal harmonies further in. The band’s lyrics tell of a relationship that’s on the outs. Musically, it’s a very moving song. There’s a melancholy quality about it that reminded me of Gordon Lightfoot. The opposite of this song is “Miner’s Daughter” – a rocking tune, filled with electric guitars, drums and a faster rhythm. There is some fantastic imagery to the band’s words here. “Humanity” features a bluesy, folkish style with plenty of protesting attitude. I really liked the extra vocals and hand claps on this tune. The latter verses are quite powerful and critical – “Who’s those who lie to us / To hold their power / With racist rhetoric / Like the White Australian Policy.”
Next is “Brooks Soak” – another beautiful tune with a great melody. This song features the slide guitar and violin, wonderfully played, and words to a place called Brooks Soak. The band’s words tell of a very, sad history of Australian Aboriginal culture that happened in 1928 (the amateur historian in me had to look this one up). “Walk Away” switches gears and offers a bit of fun – set in a modern-day spaghetti western, if you will – that pairs up with pop rhythms, Spanish guitar hooks and haunting backing vocals.
“Too Bright,” one of the shorter tracks on the album, tells the story of someone with whom a member of the band knew, who got messed up with drugs who was “too bright to burn for too long.” “I Don’t Want the Night to Come” is in a contemporary folk style and Sarre and Weaver sing about the fears about how the dark of the night brings out sad memories of the past. “White Widow” offers a faster rock tempo and features Llara Weaver on main vocals. This one also features keyboards and a sweet guitar solo by Higgisson. The next song “It Never Fades” is perhaps the band’s softest and most tender song on the entire album. At first, I thought this number had a traditional waltz (1-2-3) rhythm to it, but there’s something more here. Overall, a very interesting arrangement.
On the album’s title track “Wonderland” the song opens with what I guess is parliament bickering, (or some government head speaking his mind), on the band’s very punked-up rock song. The drums were fantastic here! The last tune “With You” is a hopeful song, despite a man being alone who finds himself thinking back to his lost love – “I don’t mind where I go / As long as I’m with you / With you.” And later – “No one knows how much time / They have left to spend / I’m like any other man / Take whatever I can get.” Sometimes the best songs are the ones that look at life straight in the eye. This one was a gem.
For those who like contemporary and traditional folk with just a bit of rock thrown in and written from a “biologist’s perspective” look into Stella’s Way.
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