Reviews

Four piece Americana. Huge harmonies, powerful arrangements, incredible songs.  Book The Stampede String Band for your venue today.

We’ve sent the album out to some friends and some total strangers.  We wanted to get a variety of perspectives from some of Indy’s top musicians in a variety of genres to give their honest feedback about our new album, Three Years Waiting.  If you’ve followed The Stampede for a while, you’ll recognize some friendly names in here.  If you have a passion for the local music scene, you’ll probably recognize the rest of these folks.  Give it a listen for your self, starting April 17.

 

Kit Clouser – Knollwood Boys

For my ears, not but one thing will do. Lord, Lord.

As a caveat, I’m often underwhelmed with Bluegrass / Roots music. I can take it in doses. There are definitely exceptions to this rule. Some bands are different – you can’t classify them exactly. They’re doing something old. They’re doing something new. They’re doing their very own thing. Stampede String Band is right at the top of that list.

Their instrumentation is pretty classic, minus an upright bass (for my money, give me that bass guitar). Listen to Aaron’s bass solo on ‘The Only Cure is You,’ (3:15) and tell me otherwise. Purists will cry, but who cares. They can’t, don’t, and shouldn’t consider themselves a bluegrass band. They’re so much more. From the first track, ‘Rocky Ground,’ John’s mandolin is rock-ey. Pun intended. Rocking. On ‘Why, O Papa, Why,’ I even hear some Chuck Berry in his licks. It’s very refreshing to hear. Davey’s banjo shines on that same track, and throughout the album never drones, becomes wonky or the least bit overbearing. That’s a testament to their arrangements. There are no extra notes – just exactly what’s needed. As a fellow acoustic rhythm guitar, I understand that it’s easy to go unnoticed or feel unappreciated. That’s especially true surrounded by great players. But I see you, Kyle. And I hear you. That acoustic is the glue – the anchor around which the others can push and pull. Like myself, these guys are fans and students of all types of music. That shapes and informs their sound, maybe even more than they realize. It’s definitely what makes them Them. Sonically, here, you get classic bluegrass sounds, plenty of rock, and everything in between.

Their songwriting is top-notch. You will remember the lyrics. They’re catchy. They’re poignant. They slap you in the face without an ounce of remorse. I’m listening. So should you. They tackle a lot of classic themes (love, loss, death, life), but never once come off as drab or regurgitated. I’ve heard these stories before, but never from their points of view. They’re my contemporaries, seemingly singing directly to me, telling me that we’re all going through this, and it’s going to be ok. I wrote a song last year called “Comin’ Home,” about playing music and traveling (rambling), but always coming back to that special someone. “Coming Home Again” speaks to me this same way. It’s a beautiful tune about juggling the great loves of your life (For us – family and music). “Rooster in the Hen House” mentions having “one dog that barks” and “one dog that bites.” There’s wisdom in this record…along with truth and brutal honesty. I’ve always felt like a country boy stuck in a city – even more so when I listen to ‘Eternity.’ “Bury me on a wild mountainside, where no road may reside, where the city doesn’t ever stand a chance.” Yeah, man. Me too.

Those harmonies, though. Otherworldly. There are plenty of competent musicians in Central Indiana, especially in the roots genres. MAYBE there are a few songwriters on their level. There are no better harmonies in this state. You can hear each man pulling his weight in a collective cry, forcing you to listen. You can’t not be moved by them. When first I heard (that’s an homage) ‘Evergreen,’ I found myself in a daze, completely transported. That’s what good music should do. They do a vocal walk-down on “You” that echoes Loggins & Messina for me (‘Danny’s Song’ to be exact). On ‘Coming Home Again,’ the way they sing “again” is special. Something seemingly so small goes a long way. They could have easily let it go. They hold it, with an “ag-yeah-ee-yeah-ain” that helps make the song. The lead vocal is passed between Aaron and John quite a bit. Aaron speaks for the everyman. His voice soothes, and you understand him. You know exactly where he’s coming from. John isn’t human. His voice is just something else. It demands that you listen. Together, it’s all so fluid. I’m jealous, really. A standout, here, is ‘In the Pines.’ Davey, usually holding down the bass vocal, steals the show with this one. I hope to hear more of his lead. At the very least, I want to be able to say “captain” like him (1:51). Fittingly, at the end, they absolutely kill it. The album culminates with an a   cappella story about imminent death. If you don’t shed at least one tear on that one, something’s wrong with you. It leaves you wanting more [music AND life], and there’s nothing else to do except to start it over and really pay attention this time.

It may seem like I’m blowing smoke here, but I promise I haven’t smoked all morning. I wanted to like this album. I felt like I’ve spent three years waiting. These are my friends, and I couldn’t be more proud of them. These guys could play all instrumentals and be a great band. They could sing a cappella and be a great band. They seem to do both with ease and excel at it. For this, and many other reasons, I’m honored to know them, to listen to them, and to review their record. These guys deserve to be heard. Buy the album, and then another for each of your friends. Thank me later.

-Kit Clouser

 

Ryan M. Brewer
Several weeks ago, I was given the opportunity at an advance copy of “Three Years Waiting” by Stampede String Band. The only catch? A review of the record. Being that bloviating about music is one of my favorite past-times added to the fact I’d heard the buzz about this record for months before I even left Indiana in November…I jumped at the chance.

The problem here lies in the fact that I was up to my eyeballs in my own tour at the time and couldn’t find hours to devote to a legitimate review. So…full disclosure, I got to enjoy the fruits of an early copy – but without any of the requested labor. Driving across the country while listening to this record seemed right. These here be travelin’ tunes, ladies and gentlemen. But…I’m back home now. So I figured it was time to hold up my end of the bargain. 
I sat down to write this review and decided I needed to refresh my memory on the record. So I leashed the dog, grabbed some headphones and walked around Midtown Sacramento for the length of it. The juxtaposition of this urban setting against such a “down home” style of music could have easily been troubling…but it wasn’t. I suppose that’s the mark of a solid record – the music comes to meet you right where you are.  
The whole of this record (and the whole of this band, for that matter) drips with nostalgia. Everything from the lyrical subject matter, to the choice in instrumentation to the affectation of the vocals on the majority of the words seems to have fallen through a wormhole in the space-time continuum from an era long gone. I suppose, it is then armed with this fact that I stand prepared to use a age-old adage to describe what it is I think makes “Stampede” music and their new record land so much more often then not – they are greater than the sum of their parts. 
While the four gentlemen are nothing short of extremely proficient at their respective instruments…you won’t find a virtuoso among them. There are moments of truly inspired work, yes. The guitar line on “Evergreen” stands out for me. The banjo riff for the title track is another moment. But the strength of the instrumental work on this record lies not in the overwhelming ability of the individual players to blow your socks off with a solo…but in the ability of the collective to play together flawlessly. As a product of the genre, the music is busy. But busy doesn’t have to mean crowded. And it doesn’t with this record. 
The same rule applies to the vocal work. While mando-man and part time lead vocalist John Bahler has an extremely unique tenor and Aaron Nicely carries the banner effectively in his spotlighted “front man” moments…neither are what you might call powerhouses. But their lock-step harmonies are so lush you could make a bed in them and sleep off the whiskey “The Only Cure is You” prescribes for your tired mind. 
Merely proficient instrumental work and solid vocals don’t work without the most important thing though – good songs. This record doesn’t want for those. The high points for me, are the times when the bands strays further from the bluegrass standard of “words-solo-words-another solo-words-yet another solo-words” formula and relies on their lyricism and vocal melodies to carry the listener through their world. The aforementioned title track and “The Only Cure…” fit this bill. The lyrical sentiment in “Eternity” is gorgeous. Fourteen tracks, at times, seems too many…but it’s songs like these that keep that feeling a fleeting one. 
The record treads a wide lyrical path, covering the basics of love/loss…life/death…longing/gratefulness. There were times in listening that I wished for a more cohesive narrative – a topical string that led me to where the storyteller wanted me to go. This could, I suppose be a bi-product of multiple songwriters contributing to the same project. But I like to think it’s more a product of a band wandering the depths of their collective mind, trying to find who it is they’re going to be. I’ve signed on to watch that journey unfold and, for one, can’t wait to see where they end up. There’s a rowdy four-cylinder engine driving this band – but the vehicle is more powerful than the sum of its parts. Fueled with lyrical poignancy and fine-tune vocal melodies, they’re moving right along at a steady clip. Hopefully…it won’t take so long for us to get the next chapter! 

-Ryan M. Brewer

 

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