Review Summary: Chad Stokes Urmston produces a pleasantly consistent body of work even your parents will enjoy.
Those reading a review on Simmerkane II likely know Mr. Stokes (Urmston) from his previous work in Dispatch and State Radio. This man to date has never put out a bad album, and many fans of his work treasure some of his albums as beloved favorites. All of these things considered, I was somewhat skeptical because side-projects, solo projects, etc, can be rather hit or miss. I also happen to admittedly be a bit more of a State Radio fan than a Dispatch fan, and just being purely prejudicial, the album artwork when I first saw it definitely evoked a folk sort of feel, which while being music I thoroughly enjoy, made me fear for the pace of the album.
I need not have worried. This album carries along at a very nice, easy pace that's fitting for listening to in the background while cooking or driving, while still containing the substance necessary to listen to directly. The album opens with "Adelaide,"
a song I first heard on a State Radio live album. The Chadwick Stokes version is quite distinctly different, and in that I mean it is a thorough improvement over what was already a song that received a lot of rotation from me. It's a wonderful song for setting the tone of the album. It features absolutely infectious vocal melodies that even upon a first listen make you want to sing along, a female vocal harmony, and a strong sense of Americana that carries through the entire album.
Two of Chad's strengths as a songwriter lie in his great ability to create characters with a distinct identity that is enough to evoke sentimentality towards them, and the vivid sense of time and place he gives you; the scenery. This album is going to make you visualize images of boxcars, rolling fields, diners, and small towns. This is exemplified in one of my personal favorite tracks from the album, "I Love Your Army,"
which absolutely makes my face light up with its hook, a melody just dripping with the wonder and love a heart can feel towards the world around it if one just steps outside of their self for a moment and takes inventory of all the love and beauty in their life. This is a great song to put on and escape with, as it not only can make you profoundly happy, but at least in my own case, it also transports you to a summery sort of ideal American paradise. I myself am not at all under the illusion that America is all perfect and right, but this album can make even me become a sucker for the American paradigm; at least for a moment.
This is not necessarily the same kind of song you'll hear for every track. While Simmerkane II is predominately a folksy sort of endeavor, it is characteristically a product of Chadwick Stokes, and as usual involves a diversity of influences. "All My Possessions (Ode To Troy)"
for example is a reggae song in memory of Troy Davis, a man Chad Urmston and his other bands have a history of advocating for in the face of the alleged wrongful conviction that resulted in his execution. Furthermore, the album's playability is further enhanced by the range of songs, which while certainly more narrow than a State Radio release, mixes it up with relatively faster songs such as "Crowbar Hotel"
and slower numbers such as "Don't Have You."
If there's anything this album suffers from it's just how toned down this album is at times. As mentioned before, the songs do have the lyrical strength and musicality to be engaging, but when doing a complete playthrough songs like "Don't Have You"
or "Spider and Gioma"
can kind of drag on the album a bit. These are actually good songs, but for some they may be just a bit slow to get through.
Actual Rating: 3.7
I love Your Army
All My Possessions
I hope my first review wasn't too boring.