REVIEW: Chris Stamey & The Fellow Travelers “A Brand-New Shade of Blue” is Exquisite Set


Chris Stamey & The Fellow Travelers – A Brand-New Shade of Blue  

I was captivated by the late receipt of this because the design was vintage. Typical 50s stereo-hi-fi style like old Mercury Records. What’s more fascinating is that the music on this original collection is by a former member of an alt-rock jangle-pop band the dBs & a former bassist for Alex Chilton.

Now older, his attention has astutely turned to middle-of-the-road with generous helpings of the 50s-60s lounge jazz. Surprised?

This was once music that true jazz enthusiasts cringed at. But it changed over the decades. Music developed by dabblers like “the romantic moods” of Jackie Gleason, Peter Nero, David Carroll, George Shearing & Jack Jones – the nightclub piano tinkling. The quasi-inheritors of Dean Martin & Frank Sinatra in Bobby Vinton, Julie London, singer Don Cherry, Lenny Welch, & Vic Damone all languished in syrup not many rock fans had an interest in.

But with the introduction of more serious mood heavy vocal as originated by trumpet player Chet Baker the genre veered away from easy listening, exotica, to reshape itself into an ultra-cool nightclub lounge jazz. It gained respect. From pink martinis to bourbon on rocks.

So, Chris Stamey & The Fellow Travelers roll the dice on an exquisite set with the accent on songs crafted to fit the style in 2020 & the genre has balls.

The 13-track A Brand-New Shade of Blue, (dropped July 17th – Omnivore) will have fans from the old guard not disappointed by this faithful approach to vocals, musicianship & tight arrangements. There’s no showboating. Each musician understands the era & genre they represent. Chris Stamey (guitar) stitched a fine quilt of a nearly dead musical style & represented it colorfully, poignantly & flavorfully.

On the opening title track, it may pay homage to legendary sax player John Coltrane musically but vocalist Brett Harris is no doubt channeling Chet Baker vocals. The French-titled “Je Ne Sais Quoi,” has sax, trumpet, a heavy trombone & another fine Harris vocal that would’ve impressed many from yesteryear with its eloquence.

“Late for the Party,” is a well-written ballad (it has Fred Astaire vocal suave) with a muted trumpet, delicate piano, deep acoustic bass thump by Jason Foureman & Harris’ disciplined vocal. Lithuanian chanteuse Ramune Martin is magnificent on “I Don’t Think of You.” Her warmth & tone is splendid.

As for a beautiful song — Brett’s “There’s a Dream Around the Corner” would’ve been a classic, a standard in an earlier era. A lullaby-type melody with sad trombone, sax, flute & Brett’s tenderness goes beyond the previous crooners. Get handkerchiefs out. Then comes a maniacal instrumental with intensity for jazz fans: “Cerulean Is Lovely” shakes the windows.

Featured: Charles Cleaver (pianist/organ), Dan Davis (drums), Elijah Freeman (tenor sax), Will Campbell (alto/soprano sax), Evan Ringel (trombone), Ben Robinson (trumpet), Rachel Kiel (flute), Matt Douglas (bass clarinet) & Paul Holsapple (banjo – “Dangling Cheek to Cheek”).  The 56-minute CD is available at Omnivore:

All songs were written/produced by Chris Stamey.

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