Stew – Something Deeper Than These Changes

Something Deeper Than These Changes

I’m not the biggest aficionado of the singer/songwriter genre, but when artists get me on their side, I’m a loyal fan. I doubt Tanita Tikaram, Lloyd Cole, or Nick Drake have a stronger advocate in upstate New York than this writer. As for Stew and his new album, Something Deeper Than These Changes, he’s got my interest but needs to expunge some spotty lyrics and silly choruses. Nonetheless, this is an impressive collection of reflective, vivid songs that bring you into Stew’s world.
The first track, “Love Like That,” opens with a piano that sets the nostalgic mood of a Sunday afternoon. Stew engages you in his story about how parents’ love is misunderstood and unappreciated when we’re young, with lyrics like, “The universe is a toy in the mind of a boy / And life is a movie too / Starring you…Love’s taken for granite / When you don’t understand it / Since it came so easily / It must be free / Wish I woulda listened carefully.” Co-producer Heidi Rodewald’s rich backup vocals and Stew’s passionate singing make “Love Like That” a very human song that hits your head and heart.
Unfortunately, the track that follows suffers from a silly military cadence. It’s a shame, because on “Mind the Noose and Fare Thee Well,” Stew uses stream-of-consciousness lyrics to tackle poverty, war, and drug abuse. “Kingdom of Drink” offers a return to form as Stew employs spoken word and an eerie organ to comment on alcoholism. The song is brilliant and intense, from a critic who confidently declares, “London San Francisco New York Rome / Every dive I visit feels like home / In Saudi Arabia it’s very tough / But you can find a Guinness if you look hard enough.”
“Clear Blue Day in Limbo” and “Tomorrow Gone” both tell stories about male-female relationships and familial settlement in a country-like twang that brings to mind The Beautiful South’s late 90s albums. In “The Sun I Always Wanted,” Stew returns to the theme of parent-child relationships. This is a fantastic ode to the wonders of bringing a new person into the world, and Stew steers clear of schmaltzy or corny sentiments. However, “The Constellation Jeeves” is lyrically weak and disappointing, as the last half of the song repeats a gospel-tinged analogy that spoils Stew’s high tones. “Statue Song” sounds like the best song Jyoti Mishra never recorded as White Town. This review of arguments between people succeeds because of the brutally honest revelation of the words and feelings exchanged between all parties. The album’s closing track, “LA Arteest Cafe,” chronicles Stew’s travels from the City of Angels to the Big Apple and Europe. The keyboards and drum machine that give the song a bouncy feeling conjure up Saint Etienne in their more sublime moments. “LA Arteest Cafe” floats along marvelously, due primarily to Stew’s storytelling and Rodewald’s pointed vocals.
Singer/songwriters are an interesting bunch, with many who write masterfully but sing like frogs being strangled, some who have great vocal range and the writing abilities of a gnat, and the few singer/songwriters who weave a story that stimulates your mind, heart, and ears with the ideal voice. Stew falls into that third category. Something Deeper Than These Changes is not flawless, but it’s a very good album that plays with words and images in unexpected ways. Stew and his cohort, Rodewald, make a clever and gifted duo, and both sing with rich voices about life, real relationships, and past experiences to which a good portion of the world’s residents can relate. So go ahead and open this musical diary.