Photo: Chris Phelps / Courtesy of Anti- Records

Christopher Paul Stelling Wishes You ‘Best of Luck’

On his new album, Best of Luck, folk music's Christopher Paul Stelling chronicles his period of transition in a way that could resonate deeply with listeners.

Best of Luck
Christopher Paul Stelling
7 February 2020

In his PopMatters review of singer-songwriter Christopher Paul Stelling‘s 2015 album, Labor Against Waste, Ed Whitelock wrote, “Christopher Paul Stelling is not just an artist to watch; he is one to savor”. Whitelock is quite the prognosticator. Following Labor Against Waste, Stelling continued to intrigue fans with his 2017 album, Itinerant Arias, and a hard-driving tour schedule. Stelling has returned with Best of Luck, his most personal album to date, and clearly “one to savor”.

Beautifully produced by Ben Harper, Best of Luck was recorded after a period of introspection and change in Stelling’s life. While Stelling mentions this in press material announcing the album, you don’t need a press release to know that Best of Luck is coming from a man who was taking a little extra time to examine his life and contemplating his next steps.

Stelling opens Best of Luck with “Have to Do for Now”, a song about accepting the reality of one’s situation that combines the current moment with distant memories. “December come you best be ready / Have a plan and hands that steady / Gonna take a trip out to LA / That’ll have to do for now,” Stelling sings, contemplating the near future. Just a few verses later, Stelling is remembering a traumatic event from his childhood: “Fell out of a tree and cracked your head / Blood came on down pouring read / Run tell Mama Chris is dead / That’ll have to do for now.”

Acceptance can often lead to gratitude, which Stelling acknowledges on “Lucky Stars”, a quiet thank you note to the universe, enlivened by Ben Harper’s slide guitar. And, speaking of guitar playing, Stelling is stellar throughout, particularly on the instrumental showcase, “Blue Bed”.

Stelling picks up the pace with the third tune, “Trouble Don’t Follow Me”, an upbeat road song that finds the singer giving himself some good advice: “It’s a long and lonesome road / You don’t have to walk alone.” However, the next song, a full-tilt rocker called “Until I Die”, suggests that keeping trouble out of reach is a lifelong project. “Until I Die” also features a lyric that harkens back to some of the more topical tunes on Stelling’s past albums: “There’s a blank stare out from the masses / We’re all on the chain gang of the upper classes / Changes comes slowly like molasses.”

Mostly though, Stelling keeps his lyrics personal this time ’round. He distills the wisdom of Best of Luck into a few lines from “Something in Return”: “Ain’t we just lucky to be here to see what it is / All the love and the chaos and the coincidence / Praying for the patience for the trust we have to earn / If you give a little something you get something in return.”

However, by placing “Hear Me Calling”, a blistering rocker just after “Something in Return”, Stelling shows that sometimes the path to a new way of life isn’t always linear, and some backsliding is inevitable. With that last blast of rock’n’roll, Stelling then ends the album with two quiet reflections. On “Waiting Game”, Stelling notes, “Is this a test of our resilience, or is it just a waiting game?” With the final song, “Good Night Sweet Dreams” the wait appears to be over, for now, as the singer whispers good night to his partner: “I’ll see you in the morning / I’ll be here when you wake up / And we’ll have a lovely day.”

While the specifics are different for each of us, most of us have experienced periods of introspection and change. On Best of Luck, Christopher Paul Stelling has found a way to tell the story of his own transformational experience in a way that will resonate, perhaps deeply, with many listeners. For that reason alone — but for other musical and lyrical reasons as well — Best of Luck is an album to savor.

RATING 8 / 10