The five members of Baltimore based band The Stone Hill All-Stars have been playing music together as backing band musicians since the late 1980’s. Although it wasn’t until almost thirty years later in 2010 that principal songwriter Paul Margolis along with accordionist and arranger John Shock, recruited Dan Naiman, Hoppy Hopkins and later guitarist Tim Pruitt to form what is now The Stone Hill All-Stars. The band subsequently went on to write and record their debut self-titled album shortly thereafter.
Now the band is back with Away, their latest mélange of music with influences steeped deep in roots rock, Americana, zydeco, blues, jazz standards and just about every other genre that doesn’t require a computer to produce. All of the ten tracks that comprise Away were recorded live in the studio with an impressive nine of them being done in the first take. This is no small feat, seeing as the average length of the songs is about five minutes. Though after a few listens, one understands that this is due in part to a deep love of the music itself, and also the countless hours of playing together as a band.
Away opens with the twangy and zydecoesque title track dirge “Away.” The quick high-hat heavy beats and fast finger picked blue-grass guitars and bass race alongside the huffing and puffing accordion which parallels the similarly paced “Jones Et Al V Petrie,” which also shares the theme of men fraught with disparaging situations in their lives.
In contrast the following “Out Across the Frozen Lake” is a slow and swoony tune, with jazzy drums and sleek saxophone rips while “Into the Van” bounces along with deep rumbling piano rolls reminiscent of The Randy Newman Songbook, as does the jazzy and juking “All Along the Waterfront.” The slow, storytelling ballad “Despite the Current Mess” shows The Stone Hill All-Stars range and keeps them from being pegged as just another bar band.
Years before the Shock and Margolis formed The Stone Hill All-Stars they had been in a band together named The Polkats, who were named by a panel of well-known musicians as the “best unsigned band in America.” I would argue that with the release of Away, The Stone Hill All-Stars are ready to take on that role.
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