Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bed of Broken Beer Bottles - The District

From the District Weekly - (6/10/09)

Country music has never been much for virtuosity. Aside from Chet Atkins, few grass-fed stars get by on chops alone. Country musicians are first and foremost storytellers—road-weary troubadours spinning tales of women, whiskey and woes. Virginia-raised songwriter Mike Stinson sings lived-in stories that sound best filtered through a screen of chicken wire, coursing over a bed of broken beer bottles and drunken tears. With his long hair and faded blue jeans, Stinson more resembles a canyon-dwelling Neil Young than any hippie-stomping country pioneer. Appropriately, his sound does not draw solely from the Stetson crowd but all of rock ‘n’ roll, from the rusty-stringed warblers of 1950s Chicago to the slick-haired, hip shakers of the humid South.

“My favorite writers include Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Harlan Howard and Dallas Frazier,” says Stinson, listing merely a handful of the greatest American songwriters of the past 50 years. Despite the fact that his list is rather Opry heavy, when his band really gets cooking they can take on a heavy Chuck Berry pulse that blends honky-tonk influences from both sides of the tracks, creating a modern amalgam of popular song that has been fermenting since the Band broke out of Canada.

Stinson’s vocals, an earthy blend of mid-’70s Dylan and tar-coated Haggard, are pure twang, with “gits” and “’rounds” chopping words down to their most essential syllables as guitar lines twirl by in fluttering triplets. Stinson’s stories are ably supported by a solid backbeat and thumping bass, with only the occasional guitar solo drawing attention away from the vocals. And his own guitar work meanwhile is minimal, mostly strumming chords with rhythmic consistency.

When Stinson arrived in Southern California, country music was dominated by Billy Ray Cyrus and Garth Brooks. During the past 18 years, he has witnessed significant changes in the musical landscape, but locally things still remain challenging for a twangy gent like himself. “The state of country music in LA is largely neglected,” he declares with equal parts acceptance and disappointment. Aside from the hard work and harder drinking of the Bakersfield scene, Southern California has never treated its country stars with much respect, but Stinson has managed to scratch out a little well-deserved recognition. Billboard’s Chris Morris referred to him as the “leading LA light of the moment,” while rock-crit godfather Robert Hillburn described him as “one of Los Angeles’ best-kept musical secrets.” And all of this for a man who has largely earned his reputation from the stage rather than the stereo.

Stinson’s most recent record, Last Fool at the Bar, was released in 2005. He has a new album in the can but has yet to find a distributor. “No release date yet, but it won’t be long,” he promises. Evidence of his status among musicians, however, is abundant. Both Dwight Yoakam and Billy Bob Thornton have recorded his California ode “Late Great Golden State,” while Willie Nelson has been known to keep a copy of Stinson’s first album Jack of All Heartache in his touring bus.

If everything goes as planned, Stinson will share a wealth of old and new three-minute gems, providing the perfect soundtrack for a booze-drenched fist fight or an awkward spin across the bar floor. “Next for me is the release of The Jukebox in Your Heart. We will tour as far and wide as possible to promote this record that we’re very proud of.” His conquering of the world is going to start locally first, though, and for all the rickety stages Stinson and his band have pummeled, they have never tackled Long Beach’s finest miner-themed bar. “This will be our first time at the Prospector,” he says. “Our ‘special plan’ is to make the show on time and remember our songs.” Who could ask for anything more?


Bed of Broken Beer Bottles @ the District

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