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Christopher Paul Stelling
Labor Against Waste

Christopher Paul Stelling — Labor Against Waste (June 15, 2015)

≈»   “When you see him perform, you know you are watching a true artist moving forward with intensity, focus, and direction. One who wants to take you along for the ride but you must trust him and go where he wants to go because nothing can change the course. As we await the release of his third record, Labor Against Waste, please introduce yourself to Christopher Paul Stelling.” —  Joe Fletcher
≈»   “You can drag my name through bleach and muddy waters / and see if I don’t still call you a friend ’til the dying end / And if you ever thought you’re in for nasty weather / I’d say ‘go on and build a shelter out of my bones and skin.’” — Revenge
≈»   As its title suggests, is the songsmith’s most masterfully crafted effort to date.
 © Photo credit: Josh Wool

Born: February 19, 1982 in Daytona Beach, FL
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Album release: June 12, 2015
Record Label: Anti–
Duration:     40:45
01 Warm Enemy     3:34  
02 Revenge     4:01  
03 Scarecrow     4:28  
04 Castle     4:05  
05 Horse     3:22  
06 Death of Influence     5:09  
07 Dear Beast     3:29  
08 Hard Work     3:13  
09 Burial Shroud     5:02  
10 Too Far North     4:22                         ℗ 2015 Anti, Inc. 
≈»   All tracks written by Christopher Paul Stelling                                               / ≈»   Description from label:
•  There is a fearless quality to the music of Christopher Paul Stelling. A voice that sounds both old and young, an effortless yet intricate finger–picking guitar style and lyrics that are both dramatic, and intensely confessional. It’s a sound that channels the restless spirit of a young man who left home to travel the country, haunting and impassioned songs formed by endless nights alone on stage with a guitar, playing to packed houses, other times to nearly empty rooms. Stelling estimates that he’s played over four hundred shows in just the past three years. It places him within a longstanding tradition that serves to nurture ones character and art.
•  “It takes a lot of work to stay on the road,” he says. “You learn to rely on your songs as a sort of resting place amidst all of the unfamiliarity. You fill your head full of places, and sounds, and ideas — and it all comes spilling out. When the things around you change constantly, you change too. And the things that stay the same become who you are. It’s nurtured my songwriting, knowing that the inspiration is all around you. If you aren't seeing it, then look harder, and if you still don't see it, then turn the corner, and if you still don't see it then look at things differently, because it's right there in front of you.”
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger;  Score: ***½
•   The sophomore long–player and Anti debut from Brooklyn–based, Florida–bred singer/songwriter Christopher Paul Stelling, Labor Against Waste draws from a wide spectrum of American roots music, from backwoods gospel and blues to bucolic folk and road trip–ready country. A dazzling finger–picker to boot, Stelling cites influences such as John Fahey, Van Morrison, Mississippi John Hurt, Waylon Jennings, Bob Dylan, Roscoe Holcomb, and Skip James, but there's a real Van Morrison/Damien Rice vibe at work here as well, especially on some of the album's less ardent cuts like "Scarecrow" and "Too Far North." Stelling sings and writes with the conviction and sincerity of a road–tested troubadour, and he's at his best and most fevered when the pace goes from a trot to a full–on gallop. There's a nervy energy that runs through the album that belies its more or less spartan arrangements and string band setup. Despite keeping the proceedings completely acoustic, Stelling manages to achieve rock–level decibels on stand–out cuts like the bustling "Hard Work," the rowdy, Led Zeppelin III–inspired "Horse," and the spirited opener "Warm Enemy," the latter of which features enough six–string fireworks to, at the very least, earn the still young virtuoso a temporary seat at the table with the likes of Fahey and company.
BY ED WHITELOCK, 19 June 2015;  Score: 8
•  An apocalyptic anxiety haunts Christopher Paul Stelling’s third album Labor Against Waste. Throughout its songs we find redeemers crawling on bloody knees, fire raining from the stars, stones crying blood, and the Four Horsemen approaching, riding over the hillside. Stelling sings of the sacred and the profane and of the gray area in between wherein most of us find ourselves lost and searching. He is developing into one of our most moral (as opposed to moralistic) songwriters, a truth–seeker whose songs are often parables, because that narrative form best captures the complexity and ambiguity of truth. Ultimately, though, Stelling is seeking a light amidst the darkness. In this, Stelling’s dense, complex lyrical imagery evokes the great Michigan poet of verdant nature and personal apocalypse, Theodore Roethke. Lines from his poem “The Waking” could serve as an epigraph to this album with its themes of exploration and personal redemption: “I wake to sleep and take my waking slow / I feel my fate in what I cannot fear / I learn by going where I have to go.” Above all else, Labor Against Waste is an album of spiritual travel and travails and the lessons they offer us.
•  Consider “Castle” and its cast of characters, the pragmatic hangman, the suicidal jester, and the mad king, who would burn his kingdom down in the absence a male heir. Stelling’s counsel is to “Sleep under the sky tonight way beyond these castle walls” because even houses made of stone are temporary things. This song addresses the false securities we build for ourselves and posits instead a return to simplicity and genuine feeling. This message is amplified in “Dear Beast,” one of the collection’s highlights. Stelling explains that this song is “about taking responsibility and caring for the beast that lives in all of us and for the metaphysical beasts that we’ve created because of our inherent need to feel watched over and protected.” With its “wayward children” who “yearn once more to be free”, it is a parable for our post 9/11 security state, and the Armageddon–like crescendo of Stelling’s flamenco–like guitar run, matched with a looming, deep cello and violin accompaniment, evoke a looming battle where “The righteous stumble, fall, and bleed.” Album opener “Warm Enemy” is another high point and cautionary tale, where we leave ourselves trying to see through sand rather than glass because our media–saturated culture lacks the wherewithal and persistence to solve our problems rather than just find scapegoats for them. And “The Death of Influence” is a parable of favors bought and sold that should be sung on the floor of Congress. These are songs for our broken times.
•  But this is not an album of despair. Stelling seeks, perpetually, to find the spiritual uplift, the strength to face our fears and solve our problems, even amidst collective weakness and folly. He follows “Warm Enemy” with counterpoint logic, singing “There ain’t no sweetness in revenge.” The raucous bluegrass revivalist hoedown “Horse” finds Stelling facing down a modern–day witch trial. And in the mournfully beautiful “Scarecrow”, he equates the fortitude of a scarecrow on a hill with that of Christ, punished “for what he held inside his heart that he could no longer hide.” The song’s chorus serves as a tonic for these troubled times, a personal prayer or mantra: “Breathe, breathe it out / Lay your burdens down to rest. / Breathe through the doubt / Never let them get the best of you.”
•  Stelling’s longtime partner Julia Christgau offers vocal accompaniment here and on several other tracks, her crystalline voice a steady counterpoint to Stelling’s, which ranges from an earthy growl to a soulful keening. His previous albums featured sparse instrumental accompaniment, but here strings and horns, particularly those provided by Kieran Ledwidge on violin, Danah Olivetree on cello, and Lis Rubard on French horn and flugelhorn, add deep, emotive undercurrents. But Stelling’s guitar remains the focal point throughout, as it should be. He has been honing his style for years, at one point spending ten hours a day practicing until he’d developed this intricate, finger–picking style, influenced by the first wave of country blues masters like Skip James and Dock Boggs as well as later models like John Fahey. To this he has added deep inflections of flamenco style playing, especially evocative of the delicate finger work of Narcisso Yppes.
•  Stelling self–released his first record Songs of Praise and Scorn in February 2012 and has, since, been on a nearly non–stop tour of Europe and America, taking time to self–record two additional albums, 2013’s False Cities and this one, which earned him his contract with Anti– Records and which they are releasing untouched, exactly as he recorded it. Christopher Paul Stelling is not just an artist to watch; he is one to savor.
•   http://www.popmatters.com/
Also: By Trevor Courneen, June 25, 2015  |  4:55pm  |  Score: 9.2
•   http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2015/06/christopher-paul-stelling-labor-against-waste.html
Saby Reyes–Kulkarni June 23, 2015 10:00 AM
•   http://diffuser.fm/album-review-christopher-paul-stelling-labor-against-waste/
Website: http://christopherpaulstelling.wordpress.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/c_p_stelling
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/christoperstelling
Label: http://www.anti.com/artists/christopher-paul-stelling/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/christopher.stelling           
≈»   Dominic Billett Drums
≈»   Zack Bruce Mandolin
≈»   Julia Christgau Vocals
≈»   Paul Gold Mastering
≈»   Michael Harlen Bass (Upright)
≈»   Kieran Ledwidge Violin
≈»   Ben Knox Miller Engineer
≈»   Danah Olivetree Cello
≈»   Christopher Peck Engineer
≈»   Jeffrey Prystowsky Bass (Upright)
≈»   Liz Rubard Flugelhorn, French Horn
≈»   Aaron Shafer–Haiss Drums
≈»   Christopher Paul Stelling Composer, Design, Voice, Guitars
≈»   Jenn Sweeney Image Processing
≈»   Josh Wool Portraits
By Trevor Courneen  |  June 25, 2015  |  4:55pm  |  Score: 9.2
≈»   Christopher Paul Stelling is no stranger to labor. For several years now, the Brooklyn–based songwriter has spent his time touring relentlessly, stomping on stages all over the country and overseas. Through these performances and his earlier releases, 2012’s Songs of Praise and Scorn and 2013’s False Cities, Stelling created a groundswell thanks to his vigorous vocal style and the head–spinning wizardry he displays each time his hands touch a guitar. Now, he’s making his debut on the Anti– label with the release of Labor Against Waste, which, as its title suggests, is the songsmith’s most masterfully crafted effort to date.
≈»   Pulsating opener ”Warm Enemy” bursts with the brightness of a sunrise as Stelling greets the day with wide–awake fingerpicking and spirited stomps and claps. He sings, “Time don’t mean nothin’ if you waste it,” which could probably serve as a substitute for caffeine if regularly repeated in a morning routine. “Revenge” picks up right where “Warm Enemy” leaves off, offering grass–is–greener optimism accompanied by bluegrass instrumentation with the recurring lyric “Ain’t no sweetness in revenge.” Stelling takes a moment for introspection on “Scarecrow,” only allowing for brief interjections of drums, harmonica and horns. Undoubtedly, this album will bring many first–time listeners to Christopher Paul Stelling, many of whom may draw default comparisons to other singer/songwriter types, perhaps based on little more than the aesthetic of six strings and a voice. However, Stelling seems to welcome the idea of standing stark, prime to be picked apart as he likens himself to the scarecrow whose “arms are spread out wide like he was measuring the fields.”
≈»   Halfway through Labor Against Waste, it becomes extremely evident how seamlessly Stelling can shift gears. Despite his mischievous quip, “My daddy always told me not to play with matches,” middle track “Horse” is a thoroughbred barnburner. The strum of a rogue stallion guitar pulls a bandwagon of rapid classic country sounds highlighted by fiddles so frantic they might make the devil forget that time he went down to Georgia. By the time “Death of Influence” begins, the sun that shone at the start of the album has long since gone down. As the song ominously swells like a storm cloud, Stelling sings about seeing the eyes of Jesus, Satan, liberty and injustice all while ambient sounds creep in and out of the sonic periphery. Still, in “Hard Work,” Stelling proves he can’t be overcome by the darkness. Even though he’s “seen some things that will twist your spine,” he repeatedly preaches, “I know my work is never done ‘til I can see the good in everyone.” Filtering out instinctive cynicism truly can be the hardest work done in a day.
≈»   Rather than resting himself in final track “Too Far North,” Stelling instead pays homage to someone recently laid to rest. The composition of his chords is almost reminiscent of classical pieces like Pachelbel’s Canon in D, perfectly demonstrating the musical masterminding at work. For reasons that may be more obvious at this point than he realizes, Stelling sings, “Unlike the rest, I will remember you best for that restlessness that filled up your bones.” An appreciation of restlessness is no surprise coming from an artist who utilizes that trait so well.
≈»   In its mere 40–minute duration, Labor Against Waste somehow encapsulates what feels like a full 24 hours. Unlike some days that tend to just breeze by, though, this is one without repose. It’s full of purpose and unyielding passion, manifesting in a tireless labor of love that refuses to waste a single second on distractions. This, seemingly, is all in a day’s work for Christopher Paul Stelling.
≈»   http://www.pastemagazine.com/ // Label: http://www.anti.com/                                            © Photo credit: Jennifer Sweeney

Christopher Paul Stelling
Labor Against Waste