For Ben Stalets, the 27 August release of his new album, Everybody’s Laughing (WhistlePig), comes after a tumultuous last few years. Amidst the global coronavirus pandemic, Stalets was also dealing with a conviction.
In December 2019, the Toldeo singer-songwriter was sentenced to two years of probation, 60 days of home confinement, 200 hours of community service, and a mental health evaluation following his role in a fake ID ring. The case was one of the United States’ largest scams of its ilk, fronted by ringleader Mark Alex Simon. He brought Stalets on after the latter had posted a call for work online. While Stalets maintains that he never mailed anything on behalf of the ring nor knowingly laid eyes on a fake ID, he did house equipment at his home and was paid in Bitcoin for his part.
In his sentencing, Stalets apologized to his family and fiancé in a prepared statement, noting, “I was raised better than this.” Everybody’s Laughing references his lawyers, as well as the therapy that he had undergone following his sentencing. It’s a deeply personal album with overarching themes of sorrow and remorse, but also something more: an ironic joyfulness permeates much of the work. Such is the case with Stalets’ “E.G.B.A.”, or “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”.
“‘E.G.B.A.’ is my best swing at prayer,” Stalets tells PopMatters. “A prayer written for my girlfriend when times were at the worst for us. It wasn’t relationship troubles so much as it was my uncertain fate. It seems like when the cops bust down your door, the least you can do is write a song for your girlfriend telling her everything’s going to be alright. Now, the song and problems are kind of in my rearview; I can see I wrote this song to comfort myself, too. It’s a bunch of things that aren’t alright but somehow that brings me comfort because ‘Nobody can be all right all of the time’ – I said that.”
Musically, it’s lush and optimistic. Flush with pedal steel, its up-tempo groove does just enough to fit Stalets’ prior Americana label. Although, this particular tune might have more in common with ‘70s-era pop-rock—something this side of “Kodachrome” or “Hollywood Heckle and Jive”. A sprightly swirl of the keys and expressive percussion meet Stalets’ upbeat vocals. Altogether, he sells his reassurances well.
Things are looking up for Stalets as he nears Everybody’s Laughing’s release. As much as it’s the product of one of the worst times of his life, the singer-songwriter found high times working with notable Detroit producer Bunky Hunt (Mike Galbraith, June Star) on the album. He will take the LP to the stage on 12 September for its release show at Toledo Spirits.