Chadwick Stokes – The Horse Comanche
by Cara McGrath, published March 20th 2015
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
It’s easy to dismiss a musician’s stab at a solo career when it follows a successful run in a better-known act. Many artists’ solo projects, or second and third projects in general, go unnoticed, and often new endeavors become flops that are not worth a second listen.
But others represent a new stage of musical brilliance. Sometimes, with experience gained from performing for decades, and the freedom of working on one’s own, comes the best work of an artist’s career.
With his second solo studio release, The Horse Comanche, Chadwick Stokes has proven for a second time that his career as a solo artist should not be ignored. After his early success with Dispatch and a respected follow-up as front man of State Radio, Stokes has found a more personal musical outlet with his solo efforts, which began with his 2011 debut, Simmerkane II, and continues on the sophomore record. The songwriting on The Horse Comanche is some of Stokes’ strongest of his multi-decade career, and resembles most closely the 1970s-era work of singer-songwriter influences like Cat Stevens and Paul Simon.
The album, like Simmerkane II, revolves around personal experiences and interests, but to an increased degree. Unlike on his 2011 release, Stokes is now clearly finding inspiration from time spent with his young children, which is especially noticeable in the album’s upbeat third track, “Prison Blue Eyes.” The quintessential personal track and the record’s most playful one is “I Want You Like A Seatbelt.” This short but sweet tune is comprised of a list of some of Stokes’ favorite things and is encompassed by the title’s clever innuendo. A more serious song, “New Haven,” digs back a bit deeper and references Stokes’ breakup with his high school girlfriend. This track, which features Brooklyn-based Lucius singing the female part, is atypical coming from a songwriter who rarely creates what could be considered a standard love (or heartbreak) song, but is kept from cliche stale by intertwining various stories into one.
Many of the songs on The Horse Comanche matured in a unique way. To support the release of the new album, Stokes took the songs on tour during their early stages, but he did so in a way that allowed him to gain valuable feedback. He performed these songs on “living room tours” in front of small groups of fans, where he could improve the songs in action, assess how well they were translating in front of a crowd and toss around names for tracks. The weight that he allowed these initial reactions of fans to carry is telling of his character as both a songwriter and a person.
Despite Stokes’ countless albums released with Dispatch and State Radio, The Horse Comanche feels refreshing. New guidance likely played a part in the studio where Stokes worked with Sam Beam and Brian Deck, and later, Noah Georgeson. Thanks to Beam, parallels come out between Stokes’ work and that of Iron & Wine, with clapping on The Horse Comanche’s “Walter” that is reminiscent of that in The Shepherd Dog’s “Boy with a Coin.”
Like Iron & Wine’s work this album is a beauty, and for anyone with preexisting opinions of Stokes’ music due to previous projects: forget them. His solo work is for the masses, with a style that gives proper weight to an incredible sense of storytelling.
Recommended Tracks: Our Lives Our Time, I Want You Like a Seatbelt, Prison Blue Eyes