Michael Stanley
   
Just Another Night
   
   

Release Date: November 18, 2008
Produced by: Michael Stanley and Bill Szymczyk
Format: CD

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01/14/2009
Mark Squirek


 

This is a great and timely new release from a veteran who many may have forgotten. Before we go to the new CD, lets look at a bit of the back story of a man with forty years in the business of songwriting.

Back in the early eighties, after over a decade of hard work, Michael Stanley got close to the brass ring. He got real close. The very first day that they fired up MTV, the new network played one of his videos. Several hit singles by his band bubbled inside the Top Twenty and Top Forty. The brass ring was within reach and than somehow, for whatever reason these things happen, it slipped by.

Don’t think that this didn’t drive him and hundreds of thousands of fans crazy. Critical acceptance was almost always there. But in the truest of rock stories, many things that were beyond his control blocked his momentum. In 1983 it all caught up with him. After releasing You Can’t Fight Fashion, he took a break that saw few releases and ended up lasting thirteen years.

When he came back as a solo artist in 1996 he was stronger and wiser. He was a better songwriter and his friends like legendary producer Bill Scymczyk (The Who, James Gang, Eagles) were still there. Despite a strong relationship with Razor and Tie that dealt with his back catalog (many of which now go for decent bucks on eBay), distribution and label support was hard to come by. Especially when he wanted to release something new. In essence, he had to start over.

With technology changing rapidly and almost eliminating the need for a major label,  Stanley began to move into the quiet shadow world of self-releasing. The benefit was that what he wrote and recorded was still able to reach a small but fanatical public. The drawback is that, like so many other musicians who release on their own, what they create is only going to be sung to the choir. People who only knew him from  He Don’t Love You or My Town weren’t exactly walking into Best Buy or Circuit City looking for his new solo work, which is a shame.

Since his return with Coming Up For Air in 1996, Stanley has released a strong string of CDs that deserved much better. He has often worked with Scymczyk who seems to bring out the best in Stanley. His lyrical concerns and skills, like his contemporaries Mellencamp, Grushecky  and Springsteen, have grown and changed with the times.

The people he wrote about twenty five, thirty years ago are now filled with regret and nostalgia. They are often confused about where time went and who is in charge but they are just as often positive and full of hope and know that after all, love matters. Capping a solid decade of growth as a writer and musician, Just Another Night may be his best release since 2000’s Eighteen Down.

Stanley’s greatest strength as a writer may be that he never leaves the sensibilities of where he grew up or what he heard while growing up. His songs are filled with guitars that ring, drums that reverberate to the back of the hall, and well placed solos that always add to what he writes and never detracts.

Strong harmonies often  weave in and out of hooks on the chorus, popping up in the most unexpected of places. Much of the harmony work on this release is by Jennifer Lee who recently backed The Raspberries on their reunion dates. She has worked with Stanley before and this time she really shines, especially on the duet Throwing Shadows.

The entire CD is filled with both small and loud treasures. Stanley has seldom been sharper as a writer. As the years have passed his vocals have become more defined and he has learned to lay back a bit to allow the song to open up for the listener. The opening cut, Just Another Night in America, is the sound of a lone car rolling down a street in the dark. Stanley tells us about someone he knows and brings the regrets and questions that a 2:30 am drive can inspire right into your own world.

“Matty’s on the move tonight. Making his way through the old neighborhood. Racing the morning light. Thinking that he sure could use a cold one.
That he sure could use some sleep. Wonderin’ why the memories that haunt him are the ones you’d never keep.”

Lee jumps in on the chorus and together they jack up the urgency a notch. The guitar solo is understated and, like the memories of the singer, sounds as if it came from somewhere in the past. When the song begins to fade you really feel the distance the character has been obsessing about.

As the second cut begins it opens with jarring percussion and a harsh guitar line that fit right in with your ride through the night. Only this time Stanley isn’t asking where his neighborhood country has gone, he is taking them to task for the lack of leadership. “Red states, blue states, it don’t matter.  Cause the bigger the prize the bigger the lies” The song, as well as the closing guitar solo, stands side by side with the best political number Don Henley ever wrote and than asked to Joe Wash to go crazy on top of.

Deep inside the CD, on the eighth cut, The Only Time That Matters opens like a lost hit from 1981. Right before MTV changed everything. As the song moves forward you begin to realize that the singer is bit older than he was in 1981 but his heart is still in the same place. Jennifer Lee once again steps up and offers strong support, easily matching the lead.

Pay Me Now is a horn driven rave that could work perfectly for Southside Johnny. It is a song that demands to be played loud while the  windows are open and the car is doing exactly 28 miles over the 60 MPH speed limit.

Almost forty years ago he started as a man with a folk guitar and on the final tracks Stanley brings the twelve string to the front for both Angelina and Kensington Palace. These tracks are quieter than the rest of the CD and begin to bring a close to the overall theme that winds through the CD of the past and final days to come. 

Winter is a closing showpiece that lasts over 9 minutes and doesn’t waste a second. It builds to a gradual climax that brings to mind Madman Across the Water by Elton John. It’s sudden end will catch you off guard as the cold winds of winter literally take over. The last track is unlisted. It opens a capella as Stanley requests that we  “Do not stand at my grave and weep”. Lee joins him and together they close the release on both a somber and yet joyful note. It is a bone-chilling song that brings an adult resolution to the CD.

Twenty-odd years ago he didn’t get the brass ring. In reality, few actually do. Those that do get it are more often than not destroyed or are unable to produce anything worth beans ever again. Stanley is still going strong and is working at the top of his craft. Which is more than you can say for all but a handful of people who have been making music since the beginning of the Seventies.

This is a hard to CD to find. Right now Amazon only has used copies for sale. Try going straight to Line Level and ordering it directly from Stanley. It will be worth your time.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 



 
     
     
     

 

 

   
 
     

 

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