American gypsy and folk hero-to-be Christopher Paul Stelling releases his second studio album, False Cities, today to already adoring critical acclaim for good reason. Lauded by Spin, the album’s opening tune “Brick x Brick” reveals the previously unknown Stelling as a tour-de-force, stepping into focus from out the periphery like the solitary hero of some forgotten western. The single is only a taste, an after-taste really- best comparable to a slap in the face, eliciting immediate attention and a new found respect for a character many will mistakenly write off on introduction.
Acousto-folk has been done to death–often painfully by the singer/song writer crowd–but an exciting crop of arrivals (so recently to include Mr. Stelling) is breathing new life into the genre and reclaiming the individual as a valid if not outright exciting perspective. Currently touring with fellow Brooklyn natives Spirit Family Reunion it leaves one to wonder what’s being poured into the municipal water supply that’s produced so many legitimate roots acts so far north of the Mason-Dixon.
With vocals strained to the point of irreparable damage over a breathless struggle to release an abundance of lyrics, all while striking that six string at a maddening pace, Mr. Stelling seems possessed. Imagine Ray LaMontagne‘s emphatic vocals set against Devendra Banhart‘s supernatural git-picking speed, only both delivered with the indignant authority of the falsely condemned, the belly fire of the trampled, and the certainty of the righteous. Add to that the weighty lyrical content and we might have the only real contender (perhaps exceeding?) of Kristian Matsson’s Tallest Man on Earth moniker and niche title as troubadour sans equal.
The single aside False Cities wastes no space. From one track to the next the audience is assaulted by Mr. Stelling’s inspired attack on song writing. The album contains all the hunger of Ryan Adam‘s strung out period, the lyrical ambition of early NYC Dylan, and an intense, superior right hand guitar work reminiscent of Richie Havens‘ legendary “Motherless Child” Woodstock performance. Despite all, the sound is anything but dated. Mr. Stelling delivers intensity without anger, passion without inflated dramatics, and heart-sparked longing without over-saturating sentimentality. To say False Cities makes for the most exciting break-out of the year is a tall order against what will come, however the passion, precision and exuberance wrapped into the single self-contained phenomenon that is Christopher Paul Stelling makes it a bet worthy of your bottom dollar.