[17 November 2010]
Kelley Stoltz can’t stay still. Not on the cover of his latest album: three snapshots of the singer-songwriter, taken moments apart, capture him writing out the title of the LP, To Dreamers. And certainly not on the album’s 13 tracks, which capture Stoltz playing the part of vocal shapeshifter. It’s the sound of a starry-eyed kid writing love letters to each of his rock idols, and in that way Stoltz hasn’t changed at all. The difference is that on To Dreamers, all of that adulation finally sounds more charming than derivative. This batch of lo-fi home recordings is Stoltz’s best effort to date because it perfectly fits the image his fans have had of him all along: A music lover holed up in his bedroom, knee-deep in a pile of instruments (Stoltz still plays most of them himself on To Dreamers), smiling back at posters of Ray Davies and David Bowie.
But Stoltz is smart enough to know that a little change can do you good, and on To Dreamers change comes with the tempo (a tad faster) and instrumentation (less piano than Stoltz’s previous albums). Touring with the Raconteurs and the Dirtbombs also seems to have rubbed off on Stoltz, and the result is a steady dose of heavy guitars. They chug along on opener “Rock & Roll with Me”, and when Stoltz sings “Do you want to lose control with me?”, you get the feeling he’s channeling his inner-Davies more than he’s singing to anyone in particular. His Kinks obsession, however, runs afoul on “Fire Escape”, which takes the riff from “All Day and All of the Night” and feeds it one too many uppers.
Stoltz slips on his Beatles gore boots on “Little Girl”, a slice of ‘60s rock with a shoe-polish shine. It’s a nice two-minute tribute to “Paperback Writer”. Elsewhere, an entire childhood spent listening to Bowie comes out loud and clear on back-to-back tracks “I Like, I Like” and “August”. Stoltz lets loose on “I Like, I Like”, a detour into big-band boogie-woogie that’s silly but still plenty likeable. Stoltz dons his Ziggy Stardust-cap, which gives his voice a glammy strut.
To Dreamers makes for easy consumption—but that’s not such a bad thing. Wearing his vintage rock influences on his sleeve, the songs feel familiar from the get-go. Stoltz’s songs have a way of reaching out to people, which Volvo and Marriott Hotels knew when they featured his songs in TV spots. The straight-ahead rockers aside, you can just see more ad agencies plucking the album’s ballads (especially the blissed-out “Pinecone”) and mid-tempo numbers (check out Stoltz’s cover of Pete Miller’s “Baby I Got News for You”) for catchy tunes to use in commercials.
To Dreamers doesn’t offer many signs that Stoltz wants to move on from being an unapologetic ‘60s rock revivalist, gleefully adopting the singing voices of his idols. But his collaborations (he plays drums for Sonny & the Sunsets) and production work (he’s produced albums for artists as diverse as Colossal Yes to fellow Bay Area residents Thee Oh Sees and Bart Davenport) suggest a change could be in the works somewhere down the road. My guess is that an entire album’s worth of Stoltz’s true voice (the one we hear on “Pinecone” and “Ventriloquist”… I think) will be damn good stuff.