I’ve dug James Lee Stanley since his very first LP and include him within a short list of America’s very best folkie mello-rockers, men who have bafflingly not received the full accolades and public exposure they’ve so richly deserved, a circle including the wondrous Danny O’Keefe alongside others. After a long history of solo releases and then the All Wood and… series (here, hereand here), Stanley’s back to solo releases in The Apocaloptimist and is once again presenting his own unique sound. Nonetheless, one of the things I’ve dug about the guy is his kindredness to cats like Gordon Lightfoot (Canadian) and Iain Matthews (English). Everything gents of this ilk do is of a piece, all of it consummate.
As the CD’s title suggests, there’s a lot of good humor, upside, and tongue-in-cheekery in Jimmy Lee’s work, though the intriguing surreal cover photo, which borrows elements of Storm Thorgerson’s and other Hipgnosis artists’ work, tips more in the direction of chaos…which it should; things ain’t exactly coming up roses lately, are they? This is Stanley’s concern, as is the method by which we all will survive it. Living the Party Life in fact suggests just that, partying, as a cure to the relentless ills within the social fabric. “What have we got to lose?” if we do so, is the constant refrain. The existentialist follower Gypsies in the Hallway only confirms this, a resurgence of the 60s hippie ethos so proficiently dirtied by media and other Rightist tools, a way of life now re-emerging to be just as cogent as it was back in the day. Everything, you see, is a matter of thought, attitude, and action.
The Beatles’ Drive My Car steps backwards into the All Wood series, re-crafted to Stanley’s wont, pretty much intact but with the scent of pines and redwood wafting through…a little smog as well, reflecting the gritty real world against which elder philosophies always abrase. The choruses here are mindful of another Stanley’s work: Michael Stanley. The surprise in the song, though, is Corky Siegel’s (Siegel-Schwall Band) harmonica, as smooth, mellifluous, and lyrical as Norton Buffalo’s. Age is sitting well on the guy and his axe. James managed to also attract a party cruise’s array of talent besides: Severin Browne, Paul Barrere, James Hurley, Laurence Juber, Lori Lieberman, Stephen Bishop, and so on.
I think the keynote here is found in a line from Here We Have My Father: “We settled for survival”, a sentiment I can’t help but persistently drub my generation, the Boomer generation, with (Stanley’s seven years older than me) in order to warn those who are coming after. The apocalyse is not in the offing, it is upon us. The word does not refer to chaos, as religionists and politicians would have us misbelieve, but rather to revelation…though tumult is what oft results as Good and Evil meet again to dance when truths emerge and the fell among us work feverishly to crush the benevolent side. What we settle for is what we’ll get from those in charge, it’ll never change so long as rule, capitalism, religion, and other fantasies are allowed to keep existing despite their insanities.
‘What is this whole thing for?’ Stanley asks in When You Get Right Down to It and, lord, isn’t that the dilemma? We’ll never know while we put our ‘knowledge’ in science-fiction books (the Bible, Talmud, Mahabharata, Qu’Ran, etc.) and not in the world as it is, in science…and then in art. Just ask Schopenhauer. ‘When they take all your water and tell you you can go’ (from the same song), we have to ask where their ability to do so derives. Did they create the water and thus can lay claim to it? Are they gods come to Earth, that they arrogate our lives and wellbeing to themselves, or are they just those accidentally born into wealth and privilege, maybe the weasels who geltgrubbed their way to the same lofty heights?
Though these matters are never directly hit upon, they’re right there in James Lee’s work, so beautifully entablatured that you mightn’t notice right away, enraptured by the notes and atmospherics, some of the best in his entire career, but art has its way regardless…or rather: because of that. It can soothe, enrage, inform, deceive, put to sleep, or awaken. Many have tried to force socio-political agendas on it, but that won’t go. Ultimately, art is truth, ask Schpoenhauer about that too, but it serves many purpose, as Apocaloptimist does, both timely and timeless. Oh, and the production, arrangements, and engineering? All by J.L too, so add ‘flawless’ in with the other adjectives.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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