Travels In The South is the title of Chris Stamey's first album since 1995, as well as a good description of the alt-rock veteran's career. Emerging out of North Carolina in the late '70sfirst with The Sneakers, then with The dB's, then soloStamey has spent most of the last 25 years driving from down-home studios to dank nightclubs, taking in the vacant town squares and teeming strip malls along the way. Travels In The South provides a record of what Stamey has seen and how it fits together in his head.
After the pleasantly rocking memory play "14 Shades Of Green," Stamey gets down to business with "Kierkegaard," a loose, jazzy rumination on the existence of God, marked by one of the liveliest piano solos this side of a Joe Jackson album. Travels In The South features a supporting cast of neo-Southern rock mainstays, including Ryan Adams, Caitlin Cary, Don Dixon, Ben Folds, Peter Holsapple, and Tift Merritt, but the sensibility is all Stamey, evident in songs about loneliness ("The Sound You Hear"), sleeplessness ("Insomnia"), aimlessness ("Travels In The South," "Ride"), and hero worship ("In Spanish Harlem"). Stamey's arrangements allow for relaxed instrumental by-play, but his melodies are light and poppy, and his free-associative lyrics entail a moving musical translation of what it's like to think aloud while in the middle of a long road trip.
Almost all of Stamey's recorded output has fallen out of print over the years, and it's a safe bet that Travels In The South will also be unavailable in the coming years. But the album is no howl to the universe: Stamey crafts calmly, and aims at the kind of listener who saves personal correspondence and clips articles out of the newspaper. In the end, Travels In The South is a keeper.