New York based singer-songwriter Christopher Paul Stelling’s second album, False Cities comes as an extremely refreshing and welcoming addition to the plethora of Americana artists dominating the scene. The volatile energy and passion heard in False Cities is second to none. Stelling combines a medley of sharp, hard cutting lyrics, with a gritty lyrical style and alarming fingerpicking speeds. The delivery of which makes the listener ignorant to the fact that this album consists only of guitar, voice, and the occasional fiddle and percussive chain rattling. The resulting outcome is a foot stomping yet poignant collection of tracks.
Americana is a term often thrown around, but False Cities encapsulates the foundations of American culture. It isn’t simply a generic modern folk album; it’s fierce blues, it’s country, ultimately, it tells a story. Stelling is observant, not only of his surroundings whilst traveling, but also to his fore-bearers.
The first track on the album, Brick x Brick, hears Stelling speak of a man at the end of his tether running away from everything, including himself, and wanting to “tear this shit down” brick by brick. He’s joined by a harmonious fiddle struggling for recognition above his ferocious playing. The fiddle in the song is comparable to that in Bob Dylan’s Hurricane, battling with the guitar for dominance of the song, and the tremendous speeds at which Stelling fingerpicks is akin to that of a tornado.
The recording of False Cities immediately preceded an epic tour of his first album, Songs Of Praise And Scorn. The gruff voice heard on the album is a result of months of touring, coincidentally a gentle nod towards one of his biggest idols, Tom Waits. Stelling sounds an awful lot more road worn and hardened than he did in his last album, but at the same time, more experienced.
The album is balanced and cohesive, the eclectic sources of Stelling’s inspirations blending together with ease, held together with the slowing of tempo on certain tracks. On one such track, You Can Make It, sees Stelling toning down the harsh Tom Waits like vocals to harmonise in an accompaniment with a female singer. Few listeners will be unmoved by Homesick Tributaries, telling of the bond between a father and his son. The Appalachian repetition in the song is reminiscent of “I wish I was A Mole In The Ground”, adding to Stelling’s strong cultural roots.
Stelling is currently grafting his way through a very turbulent and constraining scene, and ironically using an emotionally turbulent album to do so. Looking at the number of past and upcoming shows he’s playing, and listening to the amount of effort he puts into his performances there are very few artists that comapre. That effort and conviction is very palpable on False Cities a true reflection of the hard work put into this album.
Review by: Jake Setterfield