A nocturnal gust of sadness, Chris Stamey’s Lovesick Blues is a soundtrack to an endless, impossibly vivid night of heartbreak — dark, impossibly dark, but at the same time beautiful.
The album (due on February 5, 2013 via Yep Roc Records) begins as if coming out of a particularly vivid dream, with Stamey already moving over the floor toward a lover — with no backstory, no preamble. “Skin,” this swooning chamber-pop number juxtaposed with a stoic guitar, is so eloquent, though, that you are immediately comfortable within the album’s embrace. If anything, Stamey only grabs you more tightly as Lovesick Blues unfolds.
Songs like “London” explore the other end of the spectrum, as a chasm begins to open in a relationship, but his basic construction is pliable enough to move into these more turbulent waters. Those romantic strings take on darker hues, as members of the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra explore their instruments behind a now-whispering Stamey. He sings with a similar confidentiality on the devastatingly lonely “Occasional Shivers,” pausing only for a knife’s-edge guitar solo.
Lovesick Blues continues on in this way, even if — at least, at first — all of the individual tracks don’t immediately seem of a piece.
For instance, “Astronomy,” “If Memory Serves” (which are both Beatle-y, in the best of ways) and the title track (presented with a slow-motion jangle) draw a straighter line to his work with indie-popsters dBs, with whom Stamey reunited last year for the first time since in some three decades. He also makes reference to another key influence on “Anyway” and, more directly, on “You n Me n XTC.”
More often than not, though, something else is happening deep down, a kind of meditative anguish. “I Wrote This Song for You” combines both of the album’s central impulses, sounding something like his classic work with Peter Holsapple before becoming transformed by this whoosh of strings into a mournful symphony.
“It’s a Leonard Cohen morning,” Stamey laments on “The Room Above the Bookstore,” perfectly encapsulating the soaring, broken beauty found everywhere on Lovesick Blues.