Kelley Stoltz | Below The Branches (Sub Pop)

With classic pop vocals, Stoltz captures feelings of happiness with a taste of bittersweet. Piano-driven chords give this record a sense of timelessness.

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There is something oddly familiar and comforting in Kelley Stoltz’s latest release, Below the Branches. A listener might need a couple repeats to become truly addicted and appreciative of what Stoltz has spent some time creating. Stoltz is a singer/songwriter/composer/multi-instrumentalist all rolled into one pleasing package.

Following Antique Glow’s footsteps, Below the Branches was recorded at home on an eight-track reel-to-reel. Both records showcase Stoltz’s unwavering do-it-yourself musicianship. For Antique Glow, he hand-pressed several hundred copies of vinyl, painted the covers, and distributed them around San Francisco. It does not get any more hands-on than this, my friends.

Below the Branches could be thrown into the category of ’60s pop music, but that would sell Stoltz’s talents way short. With classic pop vocals, Stoltz captures feelings of happiness with a taste of bittersweet. Piano-driven chords give this record a sense of timelessness.

He pays homage to the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson on “Every Thought of Coming Back.” The opening lyric, “Jesus Christ, what have you been doing all this time?” simmers with bitterness under the sugary surface. “Birdies Singing” is a strong standout. With its “la la las,” you find yourself singing along and grooving to the spacey rhythms. Stoltz has a knack for not going overboard with the cheesy pop lyric line. His music does not venture into the trite. Complete with birds chirping, this song could easily move onto highly downloaded song lists in the world of MP3s.

“The Sun Comes Through” touches on John Lennon’s vocal and piano hallmark. Again, Stoltz sounds familiar, yet fresh and original. He blends electric guitar and piano sounds effortlessly, moving from light to pounding then distorted. Dabbling in a lo-fi sound, “Prank Calls” has a slow Strokes vibe with the piano playing the key chord punch. Quick and to the point, this song has fun lyrics about an old flame calling, “some old lover who ain’t getting none.” Haven’t we all been there?

In today’s manufactured world, it is hard to believe pure records like this one are still being created. More power to the talented Kelley Stoltz and his magical eight-track wand.

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