Omnivore Recordings, once again, delivers exciting news, alongside equally thrilling new music: Chris Stamey’s collaboration with The Fellow Travelers, A Brand-New Shade Of Blue, was inspired by the intimate small-combo sound of the late ’50s and early ’60s—a time when the “cool jazz” compositions of such luminaries as John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, and Thelonious Monk lived alongside the expanding pop vocabulary of Burt Bacharach and Jimmy Webb. “These are songs for late nights and rainy days,” Chris explains. “I wrote most of it in the dark of winter; in whispers; in the “wee small hours of the morning” – that magic time, “when the whole wide world is fast asleep”. And these great singers and musicians kept that mood alive throughout the sessions that followed.”

The music started as song sheets, in the old style: just words and melodies on paper. Members of an N.C. ad-hoc collective of singers and players, known informally as The Fellow Travelers, next gathered in Stamey’s Modern Recording studio in early 2020 to read through the songbook and bring the tunes to life. “I’d put down a rudimentary piano pass, then hand out the sheets,” Stamey explains, “and let the players take it from there.” First up was vocalist Brett Harris, who became the primary singer on the set and was joined by the accomplished trio of Charles Cleaver (piano), Dan Davis (drums), and Jason Foureman (acoustic bass), with Chris on guitar.

Next came thrillingly expressive solos by 19-year-old tenor-sax prodigy Elijah Freeman and N.C. jazz-scene linchpins Foureman, Will Campbell (alto and soprano sax), Evan Ringel (trombone), and Ben Robinson (trumpet), which connected and underlined the detailed, evocative lyrics. Vocalist Django Haskins (The Old Ceremony) chimed in on “Dangling Cheek To Cheek.” And wunderkind Lithuanian chanteuse Ramunė Martin joined for a song, “I Don’t Think Of You”, and charmed them all.

The project was well underway when the pandemic stopped in-person sessions cold. But the undaunted Fellow Travelers were able to assemble home studios – some for the first time – and complete the arrangements. As the songs took shape, additional sonic details came from Dale Baker (bongos), Matt Douglas (Mountain Goats) (bass clarinet, bari sax), Karen Galvin and Libby Rodenbough (Mipso) (violins), Peter Holsapple (The dB’s) (banjo), Rachel Kiel (flute and harmonies), Slippy McGhee (harmonica), Mark Simonsen (vibraphone), and Josh Starmer (’celli).

This set follows Stamey’s 2019 release New Songs For The 20th Century, Vols. 1 & 2. Of that album, MusicTAP noted “for someone who has carved out his niche creating pop music with melodically angular twists, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that for his newest release, Chris Stamey would devise an album – a 2-CD set, actually – of brand new songs, composed in the style of songwriting masters such as Cole Porter, Henry Mancini, Irving Berlin and others. This album, New Songs For The 20th Century does, indeed, contain modern/contemporary “standards”. I’m sure the words “lush”, “orchestral” and “sentimental” have been offered up, but that’s exactly what this stunning document does present. Certainly, it’s the kind of collection that would be a wonderful guide for younger generations to be taught the art of songwriting from.”

A Brand-New Shade Of Blue will be available on digital platforms as of Friday, July 17th, 2020

By Rob Ross

Rob Ross has been involved in the music industry for over 30 years - as guitarist/singer/songwriter with The Punch Line, freelance journalist, producer, manager and working for independent and major record labels. He resides in Staten Island, New York with his wife and cats; he works out a lot, reads voraciously, loves Big Star, traveling down South and his orange Gretsch. He's pretty groovy!