Any number of outcomes is possible when artists with a history of successful collaboration reunite, as former dB’s bandmates Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey do here for the first time in 17 years. The pair have not worked together since their early ’90s duo disc Mavericks (whose reissue I gave high marks over a year ago).
The reunion can refresh the artists’ creativity, allowing them to get back in touch with a creative spark that they either have not experienced in some time or haven’t experienced in quite the same way as when they were mutually inspired.
When they’re older and wiser (as Holsapple and Stamey, both now in their fifties, likely are), the artists may temper the sound and sentiment of their previous work with a certain maturity, both musical and lyrical, that focuses their former youthful energy through a world view that has expanded and now incorporates greater understanding, of both their craft and the world.
And, unfortunately, some potential returns to glory are hamstrung by a tendency to soften the edges, paint the corners, get a little too fancy, and allow the songs to become adult contemporary shadows of once hard-charging rock-and-roll numbers.
All three results occur at different points along the 14-track set that makes up Here and Now. While the disc is slowed by a few bouts of inconsistency, the foundation on which Holsapple and Stamey have long built their work (a tremendous sense of melody, almost familial harmonies) is ever-present here, suggesting that the pair remember what made them great, and that audiences will too.
The Holsapple-Stamey magic is most evident on tracks like the opening number, a cover of Family’s “My Friend the Sun”. From its opening bars, the beauty of Holsapple and Stamey’s vocals is fully recognizable, and the song features several beautiful melodic turns. Additionally, the dreamy summer psychedelics of “Santa Monica” and beautiful acoustic balladry of “Bird on the Wing” provide shining examples of why these two musicians work so well together and what they can achieve.
Tracks like “Here and Now”, “Some of the Parts”, and “Long Time Coming” fall into the category of musical moments that could only be forged through experience and maturity. Each of these tunes has something to say (whether subtly or explicitly) about what it is to experience “midlife” (as “Some of the Parts” refers to it) and/or what it means to reunite with an old friend. “Here and Now” specifically suggests that Holsapple and Stamey know they should seize this day on which they find themselves performing together again: “If there ever was a time / We had better get it right / It had better be tonight / Right here and now / And if there ever was a song / We should practice long and hard to do / It would be this very one that you / Are hearing now”. The spunky guitars and crisp harmonies which mark the song keep the self-referential stuff from being too much to bear.
Indeed, Holsapple and Stamey reference their new connection so often that even songs on a different subject begin to feel like more steps along the same path. For example, once you’ve heard “Here and Now” and “Broken Record”, “Begin Again” (Holsapple’s ode to his fragile New Orleans home) seems like a reunion reference. And after hearing “Long Time Coming” and “Tape Op Blues” (a tune about being in the studio), it’s hard to wonder if even “Santa Monica”, with its chorus of “I want to hang around with you… until my life is through”, should be interpreted not as an ode to a lover, but to a treasured bandmate.
Unfortunately, a few tracks here don’t benefit from the same mature ring that tunes like “Long Time Coming” do. Ironically, two of the most notable offenders (“Early in the Morning” and “Begin Again”) feature the playing of the great Branford Marsalis. Marsalis is fantastic as always, but the sax, in context of each song, has the effect of making the tracks seem eligible for immediate lite/smooth rock radio airplay across the country. This is especially true when paired with lyrical passages about English muffins, marmalade, and reading the obituaries, as on “Early in the Morning”. There’s a fine line between writing great tunes about getting older and writing songs that make the musicians sound old; “Early in the Morning” crosses the line.
Despite these few missteps, Here and Now not only reminds listeners of Holsapple and Stamey’s past glories, but also provides enough excitement to suggest future glories as well. The band is working with former dB mates Gene Holder and Will Rigby (who both guest on “Santa Monica”) to produce a dB album sometime in the foreseeable future. Holsapple and Stamey have much left to say and, seemingly, the language with which to say it. We should welcome future opportunities to hear it.