The Stollers have been around the block a couple of times. Heck, they've probably watched the block wane and right itself a handful of times over. The two brothers, Brad and Lesley Stoller, have been gigging around NYC since the ‘70s and, between then and now, ended up with a sound resembling a geologic timetable of the various evolutions and incarnations of folk rock throughout that period. Their recent release, Stationary Sun, comes as a 9th inning debut—but obviously without any elements of a freshman's folly. Instead it captures seasoned musicians nailing down the better part of a lifetime's ideas and styles with both evident ease and thoughtful design.
Stationary Sun wastes no time diving right in and setting the tone. The opening track “Into the Brand New Day” starts with an optimistic horn riff that falls somewhere in between the baroque sensibilities of Beirut and the triumphant classicalism of the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Like the rest of the album, it doesn't spend too long in one place, quickly shuffling towards sparse guitar chords reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel before a wavering harmonica enters and gives way to a piano riff that could have been snatched from a Warren Zevon song.
That's just a scant two minutes in! Despite the myriad of snippets that sound like this or that, the song, like the album as a whole, has coherence built around classic pop rock song structuring, various iterations the root riff/hook and on message, if not a bit simple and matter-of-fact, lyrics that sew the whole thing seamlessly together.
By the second song, now with momentum established, drums stutter into a guitar and brass intro that harkens back to the Commodores song “Easy” before the piano takes the reigns and holds it down for some classic folk vocals.
The vocals trading off with seemingly improvisational instrumental flourishes—often keys, but sometimes guitar, is one of the most unifying factors on the album. While tracks like “Loredana” might find the brothers oozing a little bit of smooth jazz and singing with laid back harmonies similar to Steve Miller, the next track trades in the space cowboy outfit for James Taylor or Neil Young-style soft vocals over Randy Newman-esque keys—but that give and take between vocal lines and loose, spindly guitar twanging maintains the balance that the Stoller brothers have established.
The Stollers also stretch in a couple of other directions, from the near Oingo Boingo bounciness of “Culture War,” to the sweet and sweeping piano serenade of the outro track, “Water Wheel,” but they still somehow manage to maintain a very coherent sound.
Some of the biggest props I can give these guys are for that ability to make so many years of musical heritage play out with that level of coherence. Despite taking such well worn source material as post-60's singer-songwriter folk tradition, the album excels by probing in several directions—but still finding a natural and intuitive evolution that ties it all together. I don't know that a single song here would make me stop in my tracks, but viewed as a whole it's a wonderful piece of work.
The Stollers recorded this album after playing a series of monthly gigs in the East Village so that 'tried and tested on the road' feeling really comes through. The cohorts they conscripted integrate perfectly with the brothers' decades of history—and markedly contribute a depth that give the album a sense of rich, layered fullness in addition to some happy-go-lucky whimsy.
Stationary Sun doesn't break the mold, but it does perhaps scrape the years of use from the cast to stamp out something clean and fresh. When they sing, “30 years have come and gone, the children now, as old as we were then,” there's a real sense of and appreciation for time passing. There's something very earnest being put forth here—a lifetime of experiences that still manage to be rooted in the present—with the musicianship and production value to capture it.
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