It’s your world. Haven’t you been paying attention to Michael Stanley these last twenty years?
Time to play catch-up with the Silk songsmith.
Now available from Line Level Music, Michael Stanley: The Solo Years 1995-2014 is a three-disc compendium collecting the very best—certainly the most interesting—of the Chagrin singer’s latter-day solo output in one comprehensive volume.
Lose your way after The Ground? Wander off-course after American Road? Miss out on Shadowland? Now’s your chance to get up-to-speed with the bearded bard.
The Michael Stanley Band seemed poised for stardom in the early 1980s, having cultivated a rabid Northeast Ohio fan base with its rowdy concerts and no-frills, roots-rock albums like Cabin Fever (1978), Heartland (1980), and North Coast (1981). They broke attendance records at Richfield Coliseum in July 1979, and their run of sellout shows at Blossom Music Center in August 1982 remains the stuff of local legend—a Herculean stunt for the history books, courtesy a few musical miscreants from the old neighborhood.
MSB became poster boys for Ohio blue-collar rock and roll on the strength of such hits as “Lover,” “Working Again,” “He Can’t Love You,” and “In Between the Lines,” and even shot a couple promotional videos for a fledgling music-centric cable channel called MTV. Their songwriting was sublime, their melodies and hooks strong, and their in-concert energy infectious, but the magic never translated to audiences outside the Midwest. Instead of serving as a breakthrough hit, 1983 anthem “My Town” became something of a swansong: The boys went their separate ways in early 1987 following a string of “farewell” shows at The Front Row Theater.
But band namesake Michael Stanley didn’t dart out of Dodge for better prospects; settled in Chagrin Falls in 1990, co-hosted PM Magazine with Jan Jones on WJW-TV, and became the afternoon drive-time D.J. for Cleveland’s Classic Rock 98.5 FM / WNCX.
He’s been “comin’ at ya” ever since.
But the music bug kept biting the restless “Rosewood Bitters” ruminator; Stanley wasn’t content spinning other peoples’ singles without plying his own craft. Enlisting former band mates and sundry all-stars from several notable Cleveland acts, he reemerged with Michael Stanley & Friends and began playing out again in the early ‘90s. “Friends” eventually transformed into The Resonators, which in turn spawned offshoot group Midlife Chryslers (a smaller unit geared for pubs instead of the usual concert halls and amphitheaters). Stanley’s holiday shows have become an annual tradition for MSB enthusiasts, and he still packs outdoor venues like Tower City and Cain Park with the occasional warm-weather gig.
Stanley also resumed writing. Prompted into penning new material by a heart attack in his late 40s, he realigned with producer pal Bill Szymcyzyk (James Gang, The Eagles) for his first solo album in twenty-three years, the aptly-titled Coming Up for Air. 1998’s Live at Tangiers captured Stanley at his acoustic best. Eighteen Down, Just Another Night, and The Hang only furthered his legacy.
Rather than become bookend to an already stellar songwriting career, the all-star Stanley tribute concert held at Cleveland’s Performing Arts Center (Masonic Auditorium) early last month was just another feather in the cap for Northeast Ohio’s indefatigable raconteur troubadour, who ultimately rocked out onstage with his friends when he could’ve just kicked back the entire roast.
Stanley’s already sold out the first of two upcoming shows at Hard Rock Rocksino at Northfield Park (December 19). Tickets to the just-added second night (December 21) are still available (link below). Donnie Iris—the “Ah, Leah!” singer who supported MSB at Blossom all those years ago—opens both shows.
Consider cueing up the anthology as homework for Stanley’s latest homecoming. Divided into three discs—“Rousers,” “Weepies,” and “Crispy’s Critters”—the compilation draws at least two tracks from each of the twelve albums Stanley issued over the last two decades.
The fifteen-track “Rousers” pairs piano-propelled valentines like Shadowland’s “My Brand New Day” and “I Am You” alongside Soft Addictions shit-kickers “Didn’t We Burn” and “Drinkin’ in the Driveway.” Stanley channels The Velvet Underground with his cover of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane,” seamlessly working in Jim Pepper’s “Wichi Tai To” as a new refrain. He reminisces on the bittersweet “Times We Had,” recounts the affairs of old on “Lover’s Lane,” celebrates friends and family on fricasseed, live-for-the-moment rocker “The Hang,” and does a cost / benefit analysis of being an repentant professional musician on “The Job.”
Fourteen “Weepies” comprise disc two, starting with the sympathetic, acoustic guitar-driven “My Side of The Moment” and synth-laden “Talking in Tongues.” The church organ-drenched “You Just Never Know” considers life’s myriad possibilities, while “Any Other Fool,” and “Fait Accompli” bemoan past mistakes and chances lost. Stanley makes the Bee Gee’s elegant “To Love Somebody” his own, and gives Patty Griffin’s “When It Don’t Come Easy” a serious, respectful treatment.
Edited by longtime producer Bill “Crispy” Szymczyk (Stanley’s in-studio handle is “Loopy”), disc three eschews “conventional candidates” for overlooked gems, intriguing reinterpretations, and otherwise “weird”—or significant—songs. “Coming Up for Air” chronicles Stanley’s cardiac arrest. “Eleanor Rigby” revisits the Lennon / McCartney Revolver classic—sans manic strings—and “Eyeball Kid” tips the hat to Tom Waits. Previously unreleased original “Money Shot” and Emmylou Harris anthem “Raise the Dead” round out the survey.
Throughout, Stanley brings a poet’s sensibility and inveterate pub singer’s street smarts to the material: His lyrics (and music) read not unlike a cross between the muscle-shirted storytelling of Bruce Springsteen and John Cougar Mellencamp and introspective heart-song of Jackson Browne and Andrew Gold. We also hear a lot of Tom Petty running through the mixes. Stanley turns midlife crises into thoughtful verses, infectious choruses, and boot-stomping boogies with a skill that speaks not only to his forty-five plus years in the game, but to his ear for melody and understanding of the deepest fears and desires of the working class veryman (and woman).
Liner notes by Stanley and Szymczyk are accompanied by Joe Kleon’s eye-popping concert photos (the Posh Portrait cover sleeve image comes courtesy Sarah Kraus), and the text assigns full credit to Stanley’s cadre of crack musicians and backup singers: Tommy Dobeck (drums); Bob Pelander (piano, organ); Michael Gismondi and Eroc Sosinski (bass); Jennifer Lee and Don Dixon (vocals); Danny Powers, Marc Lee Shannon, Bobby Latina, and John Vorobel (lead guitars); Rodney Psyka (percussion); Paul Christensen (sax); Al Moss (pedal steel); and Ed Caner (strings). Producers Bob Clearmountain, Eddie Kramer, and Robert “Mutt” Lange are thanked—along with MSB conspirators Jonah Koslen and Kevin Raleigh.
Michael Stanley & The Resonators (with Donnie Iris & The Cruisers). Sunday, December 21, 2014 at Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park (10777 Northfield Road, Northfield OH 44067). Show at 8:00pm. Tickets $47.50 to $59.50 on sale now.
Advance tickets here: http://tinyurl.com/pjrbwaa
Purchase Michael Stanley: The Solo Years 1995-2014 on iTunes, via www.linelevelmusic.com, or at Amazon http://tinyurl.com/llqwewk (currently only $20.99).